“All Lives Matter,” chanted KCU student Dee Garrett while leading a peaceful rally against racial prejudice and police brutality in Grayson over the past two weekends, “but black lives are the ones being killed.”
Garrett wasn’t alone, this past Sunday or the previous weekend. He was joined by other KCU students, faculty, and staff as well as citizens of Grayson who wanted to show their support and solidarity. While Grayson and Carter County have thankfully experienced neither police related deaths of black citizens, nor the kind of rioting and looting that have accompanied protests in larger cities, Kentucky, as a state, can’t say the same. The death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, shot in her bed while police were serving a no-knock warrant, is one of several recent high profile cases that have reignited protests across the nation as black citizens, and their white allies, demand justice and police accountability. Taylor was not the subject of the warrant – who was later found to already be in police custody – and had no illegal drugs in her home. Demonstrations in Louisville have led to clashes between protestor and police, with journalists and others caught in the crossfire.
While arguments rage about whether other recent police related deaths may not have occurred if subjects had simply obeyed officers, or if they hadn’t potentially broken the law in the first place (in some cases they did, and in others it’s unclear), that cannot be said of Taylor. The 26-year-old EMT had broken no laws. While a judge had issued a warrant for her residence, because she had a previous association with one of the subjects of the drug warrant who may have received packages at her residence, Taylor and her boyfriend had no way of knowing who was breaking down their front door because police did not identify themselves.
Her death is an undeniable tragedy, and points to a need for reform. And while that need may be news for some of us, it isn’t for African Americans, who will tell you they have lived under the microscope of police and social scrutiny for generations.
We can disagree about whether or not the rioting and looting are justified. But focusing on the rioting misses the point. In the same way that police who have been videoed using excessive force are now being brought to task, we should be able to trust that video of looters will help bring them to justice as well. The rioting isn’t the point. What prompted the rioting is. And it’s something that all Americans need to do some serious soul searching about.
That’s one reason that demonstrations like Garrett’s faith-inspired gatherings are so powerful, and so necessary. It’s bringing black and white residents of Grayson together, to get to know each other as people first. And it’s helping white Americans understand the anxieties that our black neighbors live with every day.
Faith has always been an important part of Appalachia’s cultural identity. We begin our public meetings with prayers. We begin our family meals with grace. Now, we need to get ourselves into our prayer closets and ask ourselves, truly, how we should handle these issues. We all came up singing the refrains of that familiar childhood song that reminds us, “red and yellow, black and white, they’re all precious in his sight.” Now we need to take those lyrics to heart.
We can disagree about lots of things. We can disagree about the justification of rioters. We can disagree about the best way to address racial inequality. But we can’t deny that it has left an ugly scar on our nation that needs to be healed, and it’s going to take all of us, black and white, to heal it.
We think Garrett’s approach of Christian love and dialogue is a good starting point, and we thank him for bringing it to Carter County.