Say Their Names
Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
“We cannot continue to live like this. And until we change, far too many of us won’t live at all . . . This normal is intolerable”—Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis
As we approach two years after the murder of George Floyd by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department and seven years after the murder of the Mother Emanuel Nine in Charleston, SC, by an avowed white supremacist, another young white man steeped in white supremacist ideology staked out a supermarket in a black neighborhood in Buffalo, NY and went on a murderous rampage last week, killing Roberta A. Drury, Margus D. Morrison, Andre Mackneil, Aaron Salter, Geraldine Talley, Celestine Chaney, Heyward Patterson, Katherine Massey, Pearl Young, and Ruth Whitfield. Say their names.
As tragic as this violence is and as shocking as it is to see so young a person succumb to the poison of hate, there is something so bizarrely familiar about it all. If we are honest, we knew it was bound to happen again. How did we know? We knew because after all of the previous attacks by white supremacists, from Charleston to Charlottesville to the Tree of Life synagogue, the terror and violence were not enough to make us change. Through silence, denial, or indifference, we have assumed that the cause of white supremacist hatred would not claim any more victims. We were wrong. In postings on social media, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, the pastor of Middle Church in Manhattan, lamented, “we cannot continue to live like this.” How can we continue to live like this?
The predatory behavior of the killer in Buffalo haunts me. He stalked, planned, and prepared for his crimes, unwilling to abide by the possibility of equality, community, and unity. The progress we have made in racial equality and reconciliation, which has not gone far enough, was too much for him. It’s too much for many citizens who think there has already been too much change. It reminds me that change is costly. Some predators want to shake us loose from the path of repair and equality. Some forces seek to separate us from what is good, just, and loving about confronting the failures of the past and the injustices of our present as a way to move forward.
This week, I gathered with preachers from across the world for the Festival of Homiletics, where we wrestled with how to preach amid the many traumas we live with and have been visited upon us over the last few years. We did so with the fresh trauma of what just happened in Buffalo. Slogans, platitudes, the certainties of familiar doctrines, and offers of thoughts and prayers have long since lost their capacity to help us confront trauma and grieve rightly. What is true is that God claims and loves us through it. I have no answers beyond that, but I know that “this normal is intolerable.” So, I say their names.