So let’s review this video that my girls made eight months ago:
Now let’s talk about what I have to tell them in the morning. What do I say to them?
Another black man has died.
Another black man was shot by a police officer.
This time it happened here, where we live, in Tulsa.
That’s what I have to tell my little brown daughters.
That’s what I have to say to my curly-black-haired girls who just this morning at breakfast were talking about how they used to be slaves back when they were in foster care, and how it was “very wrong” that both Jesus and Harriet Tubman got whipped liked that, and how everything is going to be okay now that they are adopted and have a black man for the president.
His name, I will say, was Terence Crutcher.
They will ask me if he was doing drugs, or if he was stealing, because that’s what they want to know about anybody who has to deal with the police.
No, he wasn’t a big bad dude, I will say, he just needed help because his car broke down.
We don’t know the whole story yet, I will say, and then later I will have to add, he was using drugs and that is always a sad choice.
All six of my children were foster kids, and most of them have police-trauma issues. Their stories are in our book, Keeping Kyrie, but suffice it to say that we have worked hard on identifying police as helpers in the community, but it’s difficult when you were there when your parents got arrested. It’s hard when the police took you from your parent and put you in the car of a caseworker. It’s hard when the only pictures you have of your parents are mugshots.
He just needed help, because his car broke down, and the police were on their way to somewhere else when they saw him.
They will ask me if he put his hands up in the air, just to be safe.
They will ask me because we live in a day and age where my elementary school children have school-shooter drills the way I used to have fire drills when I was little. They know how to come out with their hands up so that the police know they are safe, and we have talked about it at length. I can’t believe we have had to talk about it, and I grieve that it is part of their experience of childhood, but it is something I cannot un-do or shield them from, and so we do talk about it.
My four year old twins and my seven year old triplets know how to hold their hands up for the police, so that they don’t get mistaken for the big bad dude and get themselves shot.
They will ask me about him, and I will have to say that he was a twin, like our kids, and that he had a sister. I will have to tell them he had four children, and went to church, and was studying music at TCC. He will remind them of Nathan, our own father in this home, who goes to church with all the children and who loves music so much. They will identify with him, and they will cry.
I will not show them the video, because it is so graphic and they are so little, but they must know what it shows.
They must know, and the kids will talk about it at school tomorrow, and someone will probably show them the video before they are ready to see it.
I will show them this video, and others, about the Tulsa Race Riots in 1921:
We will talk about the racial history in Tulsa, and why it matters now, and what progress we have made in healing, and why the case of Terence Crutcher rips the scab off that healing.
They will ask me again and again why the police shot the black man if he was not making bad choices, and I will not know what to say.
I will try to tell the whole story, and I will say that the police told him to stop but he kept walking.
They will say that four police and a helicopter but only one black man is bullying.
I will explain that he walked to his car when the police told him to stop.
They will say he probably needed to get his ID, or that he was scared and wanted to hide.
Because when someone aims a gone at you, you are supposed to hide under something or in something or behind a door. So maybe he just wanted to hide from the police guns.
I don’t know what I will say to them.
But we will take it seriously.
And my punk son with autism, and my impulsive son with cerebral palsy, and my goofball son who runs his mouth will get a stern mama talk about doing what the police tell you, whether they are bullying or not.
Because you get shot if you don’t.
I will talk to my chocolate skinned daughters about their hearing loss, and about how being deaf and black both is like a double whammy when trying to follow the directions that police want you to do, no matter what, and how to ask for help with their sign language hands up in the air so they don’t get shot.
We will talk about how you can argue with the law later, when you are alive in a courtroom, even with the deck stacked against you, but you can’t argue with a gun.
They won’t know to ask the question I have, about how the police linked arms and backed away from the scene with their faces away from the camera so they would not so easily be identified.
They won’t know to ask the question I have, about why it was nearly three minutes before the man was given any medical attention.
They won’t know what I felt, as a chaplain whose role it is to escort the dying through the difficult labor of death, to watch a man die alone on the street around the corner from my house.
They won’t know how I cried for a man I never met, who bled out on the street where I drive to work at a hospital less than three minutes away.
They won’t know how scared I am for them, for their disabilities, for their skin color, and for their safety.
They are getting old enough, my daughters, to realize how brown their skin is, and how white mine is. I cannot change the color of my skin, and I cannot pretend to have lived the history they have not yet even begun to discover from their heritage. But I can teach them, and I can tell them hard truths, and I can spend four hours on Saturday night braiding the hair of one girl, and four hours on Sunday afternoon braiding the head of the other girl. I can read them books, and I can make sure they have brown dolls, and I can take them to museums like when we went to the Freedom Center in Cincinnati.
I can tell them I am so, so sorry.
I can tell them I am sorry for the cruelty their ancestors have endured, and apologize for the ignorance and stupidity of mine.
I can talk with them about privilege, and about prejudices, and about racism.
I can discuss with them what it means to swim upstream when you are black.
And a woman.
We belong to a church that believes in prophets that testify of the Savior, just as God has always used prophets to testify of Him. They will ask me what the prophet says, because I have taught them to ask that, and I will tell them this:
The Church unequivocally condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church. In 2006, then Church president Gordon B. Hinckley declared that “no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church. Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.”
They will ask me how to love the police who aim guns at them.
I will not know how to answer what they want to know about a black man who needed help with his car being shot by our house and then left to die.
I will say the only thing there is to say:
Your life matters, Mary.
Your life matters, Anber.
I will tell them this, and I will hold them close, and I will cry.