“I have long believed that speaking truth is both the simplest way of leading your life and one of the most difficult to achieve.” – Judith Atchison, Quaker author
Last Saturday I awoke to the news that Terrence Crutcher had been killed by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His car had broken down and the footage from a police helicopter video shows him standing next to his car with his hands in the air, his back turned to the police officers. In the footage I saw, you can hear the officers watching the scene say that Terrence Crutcher is “a bad dude, must be on something.” Then officer Betty Shelby shot and killed Crutcher. What’s most chilling to me is that the officers in the helicopter express no alarm that he’s been shot, only concern about securing the area.
On Tuesday Keith Lamont Scott, a Black disabled man was shot and killed by police in Charlotte, NC. His family says he was reading a book while waiting for his son. The police say he was armed and threatened them with a gun. The police were in the vicinity to serve another man an arrest warrant.
Rev. Traci Blackmon has said in response to these recent killings, “It is impossible to be unarmed when my Blackness is the weapon you fear.” Before folks have had time to grieve Terrence Crutcher, another Black man has been killed by police, a casualty of white fear.
It’s that white fear and haze of indifference to the life of an unarmed father standing in the road, dead because his SUV broke down and he happens to be Black, or a Black man who is parked when police come looking for a suspect, that is at the root of the shootings themselves. This is the persistent, deadly indifference that 49ers football player Colin Kaepernick is calling out when he sits or kneels when the national anthem is played.
Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
He also said, “This stand wasn’t for me. This stand wasn’t because I feel like I’m being put down in any kind of way. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.”
He is protesting a country that says it is one thing and acts another way. He is courageously refusing to stand for a national anthem that glorifies the military and includes these lines (not often sung these days): “No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”
As a Quaker his protest feels right and familiar to me. Many Quakers refuse to stand for the national anthem or for the pledge of allegiance. From our beginnings, we have refused to swear oaths, believing that integrity and truth are crucial religious testimonies, that one should speak the truth continuously and not only on special occasions. We strive to be consistent in word and deed and we refuse to speak words, whether in songs or pledges, that we can’t affirm as true. Quakers strive to live from the deepest truth we know, which we believe comes from God. We honor what we believe to arise from God/Spirit/Light and are suspicious of deference to the state. Lack of integrity, lack of truth telling, separates us from ourselves and from the Light within.
Kaepernick’s stance is one I affirm, as a Quaker and as a woman committed to uprooting racism and piercing the white haze that proves deadly for far too many. My sense of God’s guidance calls me to speak out and to act against a system that indifferently abuses the lives and dreams of so many, that refuses to hold a system of policing accountable so that the killings end, and that is based on a foundational lie – that justice and freedom are only for some, not truly for all.
I won’t be standing for the anthem or the pledge of allegiance any time soon. Many football players are joining Kaepernick in his protest. What if the stadiums were full of those who refused to stand? What if no one stood until no more Black men or women are killed by our current evil system of policing? Will you choose not to stand?
“Until the killing of Black men, Black mother’s sons
Is as important as the killing of White men, White mother’s sons
We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes”
- Ella’s Song by Sweet Honey in the Rock