As the guilty verdicts against Derek Chauvin came in I was swept with emotions. They actually started when I heard jury deliberations were finished. A familiar twist in my gut returned – the feeling when Milwaukee was waiting for the name of the officer that killed Dontre Hamilton to be released; the feeling of the DA announcing he was declining to press charges; the feeling when the U.S. Department of Justice announced they would not open a civil rights case in the death of Dontre. It was the tears I shed with the family. It was the resilience of a movement undeterred by a pattern and practice of injustice. It was a tension of preparing and bracing for a not guilty verdict.
It was the feeling I held when I met with Craig Stingley, Corey Stingley’s father. It was the feeling I had praying with Debra Jenkins, mother of Larry Jenkins. It was the community marching for Brandon Johnson, Derek Williams. It was the feeling holding vigil with the family of Jay Anderson.
None of these names became trending hashtags. Few of them got any notice outside a regional news story.
But these are families I carry in my heart and names emblazoned in my memory. Sacred lives, Black lives, stolen at the hands of police violence. None of them getting justice.
When I heard the news I was stunned. I was watching on Twitter and watch not as the foreman read the verdicts but the People in the streets who had been chanting the name of George Floyd and the cries, “If we don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace.” The reaction from the front lines of resistance was first silence and then cheers. Soon chants of “All three counts! All three counts!” rang out. I was filled with love for the people in Minneapolis – the city that trained me to be a pastor and prepared me for my work in Milwaukee.
And then I thought of the families in Milwaukee. And the names of Daunte Wright and Iremamber Sykap, and Anthony Alvarez, and Travon Chadwell, Lindani Myeni, and Adam Toledo.
I fear Derek Chauvin has been offered up as a pawn in the chess game of policing that the American Empire is playing. Proof that the system works.
Meanwhile, in Ohio Ma’Khia Bryant was shot 4 times by the cops she called for help.
I thought the familiar twist was preparing me for the disappointment in the verdict. It was really just a reminder that “the whole damn system is guilty as hell.”
I began to wonder how as a congregation – as a predominately white institution – do we respond to this moment. I asked, “what leaders in the movement are we in relationship with?” and “what organizations do we look to in moments like this?”
We do know some leaders. We know some organizations. We are also not yet in deep enough relationships that those connection are intuitive and the foundation of our response. We were not in conversations with them even before the jury deliberated.
The only way I’ve found to untwist the feeling in my gut is to show up when Black leaders and organizations ask me to and then join in the ongoing solidarity work toward liberation.
May it be so,
Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton, testifies at a Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission hearing after her son was killed by a Milwaukee Police Officer. Pastor Steve Jerbi stands behind offering support.
Photo Credit: Joe Brusky, January 2015