Dear Ones —
I write today to send thoughts of concern and care for all of us in the Starr King community. These past few months have upended all we know, or thought we knew — global pandemics have a way of doing that. I hope that each of you are finding ways to care for yourselves and your spirits, that you are reaching out to support others more vulnerable than yourselves, and that you are allowing others to support you if you need it.
I am writing to you now, however, with a different kind of epidemic weighing on my heart. It has been a brutal 11 days since the killing of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers. For some of us, his death was a terrorizing reminder of how little Black lives matter in the face of state violence. For others, it was a shock to the insular lives they had been living, sheltered by the white supremacist culture they refused to recognize. For still others, it was business as usual — the business of policing Black life and normalizing Black death. Because until 11 days ago, it was normal.
Normal enough for Floyd’s last cries for help: “I can’t breathe” to be familiar — they were Eric Garner’s last words, too. Normal enough for civil rights groups and investigative reporters to keep long lists of the extrajudicial murders as they occurred, week after week, year after year. Normal enough for the names on those lists to disappear from the corridors of justice, while their killers, sworn to protect and serve, instead returned to the streets to batter and humiliate and sometimes to kill again. Normal enough for the names of the Black dead to be forgotten by all except the families and friends who loved them, the activists struggling to end the killing, and people whose opposition to their deaths found voice only in prayer.
For nothing is normal anymore, not anywhere. The pandemic that continues to surge around us has placed death clearly in our sights, has reminded us of the fragility and preciousness of our lives. Having spent days and weeks curtailing our normal lives so that we might continue to live, we had the time and space to watch George Floyd die in front of our eyes. That video, shot by Darnella Frazier, a courageous young Black woman who chose not to turn away, did more than break the Internet. It broke America’s heart, its collective conscience, its deep denial of white supremacy culture and the role that police play in enforcing it. Black women have always played pivotal roles in the disruption of white supremacy and the survival and flourishing of Black people. Sadly, Black women are also at risk from police violence — and at risk of being erased from an already terrible story.
Today, June 5, would have been the 27th birthday of Breonna Taylor, a 27-year-old emergency medical technician from Louisville, Kentucky. On March 13 of this year, she was killed in her own home during the execution of a “no-knock” warrant by undercover police officers. No body cameras were worn by the officers, so we will never have the full story of how she died. But we know enough to know that she didn’t need to die. Neither did Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth, Texas; or seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones in Detroit, Michigan; or Rekia Boyd in Chicago; or Sandra Bland, a supposed suicide while in police custody in Waller County, Texas; or the dozens of other Black women who have died in encounters with police, often in their own homes.
We remember you today, Breonna, and the other Black women killed by police throughout this country. We grieve the futures stolen from you. We protest, and vote, and write, and strategize for you. We keep your memories close, on the long and terrible list of Black death, just as we remember George Floyd in Minneapolis and Michael Stewart in New York, and Tony McDade in Tallahassee. Most of all, we vow to educate and to agitate until this list of death comes to an end.
The religious, educational, and moral values of Starr King have never been more urgently needed than at this moment. Each person associated with our school — our students, staff, faculty, donors, friends, partners — has the capacity to act at this pivotal moment, because of the grounding you have received here in studying, working, or being with us. I pray that in the communities in which you find yourselves, you have already found a role for yourself in the service of liberation, and in the end of white supremacy culture and its deadly effects. May you be lifted up to do the work that must be done now, remembering the words from “Ella’s Song” by Sweet Honey in the Rock: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”