Silence is not an option

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On Saturday, July 14, a painfully sad, but familiar event occurred. Harith Augustus became the latest victim of a police shooting, occurring on the South Side of Chicago.  After protests that arose Saturday evening, police released a 40-second long video the next day in efforts to justify the actions of the officers. “We’re not trying to hide anything. We’re not trying to fluff anything,” Superintendent Eddie Johnson offered on Sunday. “This video speaks for itself.”  [1]Does it?

Johnson's words were quite ironic. Given there was no audio at all, there was no speaking to be analyzed. Given the edited format of the video, there was no video leading up to the event, nor anything showing what occurred after. Additionally, the editors of the video gloss over Augustus trying to show his Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card granting authorization to lawfully possess, and instead focus on the firearm he was carrying. Without audio, without voices, it is impossible to determine for certain what transpired or how to make a final decision. You cannot say the video speaks for itself when there is no speaking. When there are no voices, narratives are contrived and actions are inconclusively justified.  

Words matter, and for people of faith — our moral leaders, in particular — words are especially important. Earlier this summer, the lights of the world stage lit up at the spectacle of the royal wedding. Yet amidst the cast of the royal couple and dignitaries in attendance, it was Bishop Michael Bruce Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, that took the stage. [2] Drawing striking contrast to the 2011 royal wedding sermon delivered by Bishop Richard Chartres, Curry drew upon his preaching tradition drumming emotion, response, and surprise.  As one reporter remarked, "I had not expected to be moved."[3] Profound words about the power and love, delivered through an African American homiletic, unsettled the typical pomp and circumstance, and silence, one may have expected. Words matter in moments of silence and pause like the royal wedding, and they matter in moments of silence and pain, as in the case of Harith's murder.

Voices erupted across the city last week, through rallies and actions in streets of the southside, to the streets of the mayor's home. [4] Voices from many ages, many races and ethnicities, and many identities have come together in outrage, pain, and frustration. All we see serves as a stark reminder for the lay and clergy leaders of our faith to also raise their voices.

In the aftermath of Harith's murder, and after all the newscasts, rallies, actions, and facebook-live events, the question must be asked: are our communities of worship silent? Is police accountability a thread of the many conversations happening in our sacred spaces? If it is, then praise God for a community of faith who chooses to step into these challenging waters risking pain, struggle, and uncertainty.

But if not, remember the convicting words of Rev. Dr. King: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” Lean on the bold words of Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for female education and youngest Nobel Prize laureate: "When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful."  If our congregations and communities are silent, then perhaps this is a reminder to let our voices be the powerful ones that speak up. The problems of racism, police misconduct, and law enforcement oversight are real, and there is a need to bring voices of faith to the table. Silence is not an option.

Your voice matters: contact your alderman and urge them to support real and meaningful police accountability reform through the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability.

CRS is committed to ending police misconduct and bringing more community accountability to our law enforcement offices. We do this through litigation establishing a community informed court-enforced consent decree that would hold law enforcement accountable to long term reforms; through  our work in creating a community-based oversight commision for the CPD, and through advocating for extensive reforms to Chicago’s police union contracts