Rock! Paper! Scissors!
Tools for anarchist + Christian thought and action
Vol 2. No. 1
Art Against Empire
Art Against Empire
Guest editor: Ewuare X. Osayande
By: Rev. Brittini L. Palmer
“May he vindicate the afflicted of the people, Save the children of the needy and crush the oppressor.”
“Thus has the LORD of hosts said, 'Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother.”
April 19, 1989, fifth-teen days before I was born, Trisha Meili was raped, and Antron McCray, 15, Kevin Richardson, 15, Korey Wise, 16, Yusef Salaam, 15, and Raymond Santana, 14, under the guidance of Linda Fairstein were violently and unjustly questioned and later charged with this hideous crime.
Fifth-teen days before I reached this earth is a mirror of what Black and Brown people have experienced for centuries. Fifth-teen days before I was born families were still affected by a system designed to save some and throw away others, specifically those of the darker hue.
Ava DuVernay’s ‘When They See Us’ is a reminder of the infamous case, The Central Park 5. This carefully articulated film is also a reminder of the lack of attention to the gospel of Jesus, Black freedom, or in the words of James Cone, legal punishment sanctioned by the community. A system that beats down on a people and then pits them against each other.
It was James Cone who placed the crucified people of the world within God’s reach attributing the cross as the link to those constantly oppressed. He also believed artists force us to see things we do not want to look at because they make us uncomfortable with ourselves and the world we have created. These boys, now men were publicly lynched, and the artist, Ava, illuminated their story making some uncomfortable, angry, and others vindicated.
The existence of Black people has always been political. Bobby, Antron’s late father serves as an example. Black people have to make choices others do not typically have to make. He was asked to save his son in a system that was created to kill both of them.
The film clearly highlights the case could have gone either way although the evidence said otherwise. A clear remnant of an unjust system. It is clear in the film the state believes black bodies were and are dispensable. It is Cone who said America has been defined as a white nation and blacks as a subordinate race unit or governing and therefore incapable of political and social equality. The film, ‘When they See Us’ personifies this fact.
In the film you see the eagerness of parents to save their kids while dealing with their own trauma, the fight to save reputations and careers only to force children to live in cages, Black mothers questioning their ability to mother as a system attempts to rip their hearts out of their chest, Black and Brown families struggle to pay bills while the system profits off of their bodies.
Donald Trump - like the rulers we read in the Old testament - served as the glue that illuminated hate and racism. A man whose rhetoric has not changed. His “fifteen minutes” are not quite up.
God is not pleased.
The system lives in people. It breathes in people … in their actions.
Thirty years I’ve been on this earth and Black and Brown people still suffer reaching toward true freedom. Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana suffer under a nation that legislatively approved slavery and lynching, under a nation that approves mass incarceration, the murder of black bodies, and false narratives which lead to hate.
Jesus understood that all are equal in God’s sight. Jesus could hear the cries from the bottom of the ship, the cries of the mother who watched her son swing from a tree, the cries of the mothers who never gave up on their children.
No, Clarence Thomas, what you went through was not a public lynching. But what these boys who are now men suffered through was.
White Christians lynched nearly five thousand black men and women in a manner with obvious echoes of the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. The system has incarcerated Black and Brown people in unbelievable numbers. In 2015, 2.2 million people were in the nation's prisons and jails — a 500% increase over the last forty years.
A system which perpetuates and exists off the oppression, brokenness, and struggle of groups of people deserves to be dismantled.
Yet, me must fight.
Let us believe like Kelly Brown Douglass believes, and have the courage to believe in the freedom of God and resurrect the lives of the slain and those who remain standing.
Christians, it is time to stand up and out.
Cone, James. The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis, 2011.
Day Keri. Unfinished Business: Black Women, the Black Church, and the Struggle to Thrive in America. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2012.
Douglass-Brown Kelly. Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2015.
Prison Policy Initiative. The criminal justice system is riddled with racial disparities. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2016/08/15/cjrace/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwrdjnBRDXARIsAEcE5YkQ0cpW-XqVYe1MVsW1pwrp8FJLFtY6TaZ3ZLxuBehgIUpgU1HfcskaAi1SEALw_wcB
The Sentencing Project. “Fact sheet: Trend in U.S. Corrections.” Updated June 2017, http://sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Trends-in-US-Corrections.pdf (accessed November 01, 2017).
When They See Us. By Ava Duvernay. Netflix