The members of the Racial Justice Ministry (RJM) met within two hours of the verdict being announced in the George Floyd murder case. We had planned a few days prior to meet and prepare to support the congregation through any outcome. We started our meeting by checking in on how people were feeling after hearing that Derek Chauvin was found guilty of all counts. Our reactions mirrored that of many:
- We were relieved that he had been unanimously found guilty – no equivocation, no disagreement on the jury. We felt the arc bending toward justice again. While this was not yet justice, which requires restoration, it was clearly a statement of accountability.
- We were saddened by the fact that there was significant doubt about the verdict. The case seemed so clear cut but too many were not sure based on historical precedent.
- We were angry that the problem of police misconduct against people of color continues, is systematic and is not just about one bad apple. It is too easy to buy into the existing system and justify behaviors that can’t be tolerated. We are all capable of backsliding.
- We were amazed by the amount of courage it took for bystanders and police officials to take the stand.
- Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded the widely seen bystander video that brought global attention to Mr. Floyd’s death showed courage well beyond her years. She and other bystanders testified that they are still haunted by witnessing Mr. Floyd’s death.
- Police officials and experts were refreshingly and surprisingly clear that Chauvin’s actions violated police standards and directly contributed to Mr. Floyd’s death. The “thin blue line” did not protect Chauvin’s misconduct, as it had protected other officers in the past. His conduct was too egregious even for his department, but it took courage for them to step forward and say it publicly.
What does this all mean for us at UUCWC? Our neighbors and friends of color are still terrified. Most cases of police misconduct aren’t videotaped, and the circumstances may not be as clear. The work is not done but we have reached an important inflection point.
As Rev. Meg Riley stated during the online vigil Wednesday evening following the verdict, “you gotta act when the spirit says act!” We are called to be courageous, each in our own way. The members of RJM identified some ways that our courage can be expressed:
- Language matters! The Associated Press came out immediately after the verdict and changed how they would describe what happened going forward. It was no longer the “death” of George Floyd; it was now the “murder” of George Floyd. Carey McDonald from UUA stated “George Floyd was murdered by an individual and a racist system”. How will you talk about what happened? Are you ready to change your language to clearly name what is happening in your community? If not, why not?
- Raise expectations – the Chauvin conviction sets the baseline for unacceptable behavior at an extremely egregious level. The standards for police conduct need to be much higher. Are you ready and willing to say that publicly and hold your local police department accountable? What do you need to build the courage to speak out?
- Listen to those most affected – the most important message heard during the build up to the verdict was directly from the Black community. Pundits and elected officials were calling for calm – the last thing the black community needed was someone telling them to stay calm when their very lives were at stake. Our work was to listen to their fears, their history and their prayers. It takes courage to listen with an open heart and mind. Are you ready to really listen to the pain and fear in the black community.
Check out some of the partners in this work:
- UU partners in racial justice work, beyond the Unitarian Universalist Association, include UU State Action Networks, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the UU College of Social Justice, Diverse & Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM), Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU), and Allies for Racial Equity. UUs also form interfaith partnerships, such as Congregation-Based Community Organizations, the Forward Together movement, the NAACP, and the Living Legacy Project.
- Join https://www.facebook.com/groups/BeyondBlackandWhite and just listen for a while. Don’t assume you know what others are feeling, thinking or asking of us. We started listening in new ways after George Floyd’s murder – keep listening, reading, and asking yourself the hard questions. Deep listening is another courageous act available to us all.
The Racial Justice Ministries work plan for 2021 includes:
- working closely with Right Relations to update our policies and procedures to reflect a focus on restorative justice – how do we as individuals and as a congregation address conflict in healthy, transformative ways and ensure that punishment/law enforcement is used as a last resort?
- bringing in the voices of people of color in a proactive manner – not just after something has happened. We have plans to bring in influential voices that can teach us to listen and then to act.
- developing expectations for members and church leadership on what it means to live the 8th principle at UUCWC. An early draft has been sent out for input from people of color – we can’t design anti-racism work without their voices in the work.
The Racial Justice Ministry welcomes Rev. yadenee’s interim ministry with us starting in May. We look forward to open dialogue with Rev. yadenee about our anti-racism work and benefiting from ALL her gifts of ministry. We are committed to keeping the work of racial justice as our work and remaining mindful of our/the congregation’s expectations of Rev. yadenee in these efforts. Having a minister of color is a true gift to this congregation at this exciting and challenging time, but the responsibility for the work remains that of the congregation. Feel free to call on us if you have any questions, concerns, ideas about our collective work ahead.
In the next few months we will be looking to add members to RJM – please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you might be interested in joining us in this work. Bring your courage to the table and leave your privilege behind– we have all grown, in ways we never expected, from this experience.