Reverend Billy’s Revelations

Reverend Billy Talen Jun 11, 2021

Dear Billy,
I’m opposed to the police abusing and killing Black people as much as the next person. I’m also against anyone else being a victim of violence. Yet, if I say “All Lives Matter” people get mad at me like I’m a terrible person. Why? I don’t get it.

TOM Bay Ridge

Dear Tom,
I can’t think of a more important question. Whites in this benighted country of ours must figure out the answer.

If you are willing to say “All Lives Matter” in response to a Black person saying “Black Lives Matter,” then you are saying that the coming of that phrase after the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014 is not particularly necessary. And the person who wants to say that “All Lives Matter” is also saying that the danger to Black descendents of slaves does not separate them from the rest of society.

But I understand, as a white person, that I will never know what the legacy of slavery really is. I will never know what the fear feels like to go out into public space where the police are. And we have seen with Eleanor Bumpurs, and Fred Hampton, and Ayana Stanley Jones, and Akai Gurley, and Stephen Clark, and Sandra Bland, and Breonna Taylor — we have seen so many people of color killed not in public space but in their own homes, where safety is also not assured. No, Tom, you don’t get it, but there are as many reasons to say “Black Lives Matter” as people who have been harmed.

We need to keep shouting “Black Lives Matter!” until Black people tell us that they are safe.

A leader of our “Church of Stop Shopping,” John Sims, was roused from sleep on May 20 by three armed white males who turned out to be police, although at first he feared that they were vigilantes. This took place in Columbia, South Carolina, in an art gallery where John’s ritualistic manipulations of the Confederate flag were the main exhibit. He was staying in an apartment on the second floor, which has housed artists-in-residence over the past 12 years.

John is a 6’5” African-American. The main thing he returns to in our talks is his awareness of how close he came to death. He tried to move in slow motion, polite,

studied, with hands in sight. Any wrong move, any anger incited in a hopped-up cop by his explanations of ‘‘You can see I’m living here, this is my computer, my clothes.” and “Why don’t you call the museum director?”

Well, that last statement was especially risky because it’s the quick solution and John might have gotten excited and reached for his phone to get her number. That gesture may have been his last. There are hundreds of Black males shot each year with the “reaching for what appeared to be a gun” in the incident report.

This is one example of slavery’s living legacy — to be deprived of the protection that should come from having a legally established domicile. A longtime art gallery and institution that hosted community events in Columbia was no protection for him.

This delicate act of survival is unknowable to even the most well-meaning ally. John couldn’t assume that he was able to hold and defend the space around his body. He was in mortal danger sleeping in his bed. As we mark the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, the air reverberates with cries of “Black Lives Matter.” When a white person hears the phrase, the righteous reply is to shout back those three words with the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmuad Arbery and keep their names going and going. That is what we did last summer until we lost our voices.

We must amplify this demand for safety and respect as long as Black Americans are victims of state-sanctioned violence. From climate change to racist wars to tail-light stops, that violence is designed into our unexamined, colonizing lives.

Tom, we need to keep shouting “Black Lives Matter!” until Black people tell us that they are safe.



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