Me for Racial Justice by Pastor Bethany Carpenter (1-19-21)

hey, God, 

Saturday night I went to the grocery store.  You know.  Milk to buy for Mel’s household: I got to go and see/visit/stay with her/them!  Didn’t want to do it on my Sabbath.  You know.  Not many people there.  

Pretty quiet.  I go to the small store; no extra price breaks for letting them keep track of what you buy; 

fresher produce and meat, maybe.

As I got to the first out-of-the-produce-section aisle, 

Two sherriffs were down by the cash registers, wandering around, 

looking up aisles, conferring with the manager, the other workers.  

I figured they weren’t there for me.  There was no fear of being in trouble on my part.  

What would they want with me, a 70 year old white lady being as ordinary as possible.  

Did my shopping; went down aisle after aisle, which isn’t my style.  I must be hungry, 

I thought to myself, might as well see what I need.  Didn’t check my list.  Got to the milk.

There, at the end of the frozen aisle, by the entrance to the back of the store

were the two policemen; 40-ish/50-ish, White, and between them, 

getting handcuffed, a Brown young man.  Quietly.  Patiently.  Standing there, 

as they cuffed his hands behind him.  I looked at them, at him; he looked at me.

“Why are they cuffing him?” I wondered to myself.  Then I looked again.

The young man had no mask on.  All the rest of us did.  “Are they cuffing 

him because he has no mask?”  I thought… It seemed over-done.  Couldn’t 

they just take him outside; walk him outside?  Why the cuffs?  I heard one 

sherrif ask him something about “comfortable” something about “ok?”  

Good heavens, I thought; he didn’t seem like he was any trouble; like he had done 

anything really wrong; he seemed like a nice young man.

And yet, 

I didn’t actually ask any of those questions… I didn’t actually say anything out loud.  

I did see one of the helpers, and asked what had happened.  Said I would have given 

the kid a mask, if that was the trouble; I had some extras in my car… the helper looked 

at me kind of like I was from another planet, or like I was speaking a different language…

He told me the manager had called the police when the kid came in without a mask; something about the young man jumping out of a car…that he had hidden in the bathroom in the back… 

it seemed to be second-hand-ish info.

I finished most of my shopping, then remembered to see if they had the kind of 

toilet paper I’ve been using since the lockdown.  And there, on the floor in front of the TP 

was a set of keys; the car key so like mine I checked my pocket to make sure; the two or 

three other keys were non-descript, the gold colored kind that opened someone’s front door, 

someone’s apartment door.  All on a plain key ring: plain.  

I gave them to another helper… who looked at me again like 

I was from another planet; think I actually told him to give them to the manager…

why hadn’t I done that?  I worked in a grocery store years ago… 

The other young men who were working were kind of punch drunk; loudly laughing through 

their parts of the story; where they’d been; I didn’t really listen…

Got in line; paid for my groceries…

as I left, a family; dad, mom, little bro, little sis, maybe… waiting in a clump 

by the carts…  watching.  The sheriffs were in the drive; three cars, blocking access and 

through passage, parked.  Lights blinking red yellow blue; red yellow blue…

no sign of the young man.

I walked by the family knowing they were witnessing for the young man.  Knowing what they were doing; the importance of what they were doing…  He was ?probably in a squad car…

I sorted my groceries into the insulated carriers I have…

put them all in the trunk, got in the car, put in the key and drove away,  

Thinking to tell the sherrifs to get out of the road, wanting to tell them they were blocking the road for 

no reason; they were just standing around, talking with each other…didn’t…

Maybe they had let the kid go…  

I drove home.  Thinking all the way about what I could have/should have 

said, “Are you really cuffing him because he has no mask?”  “I have a mask in my car.”  

When I woke the next morning, I wondered if the kid (young man) had gotten in the car with his family, and someone had said, I can’t find my keys, and he had said, I’ll go get ’em, and had gone in without a mask and the manager had seen a young Brown maskless kid in a hurry, and had called the police.  

Haven’t called the station to see what happened to him, nor the store.  Didn’t know him, the young man, nor the family that waited outside the store.  Patiently.  Not causing trouble.  Waiting.  Witnessing.  Worrying.

My big brother was a cop for nearly forty years, so whenever I am pulled over (not often any more), I look at the policeperson as a member of my family.  I just ask what’s up and know that whatever it is, 

I can get through it.  No big deal.

And I am female, of the kinds of female that were taught that our opinion was not useful or needed or wanted; to go do something female: cook, clean, sew, knit, crochet, sing, garden.  Certainly not to speak up with a question.  You know how some folks say there’s no such thing as a stupid question?  That really only seems to apply to boys, in school, and men who are moving up in the world.  

Actually, 

it’s a huge problem for me, as I am a pastor.  Which I forgot watching those White cops put hand cuffs on a Brown young man.  I just remembered being female, and ignorable.  And wanting to be invisible.  

But I think now, that I must let you know; let me know: I must say it, speak it, write it, admit it out loud: I am a racist.  I am sexist.  I am a silent abuser.  Because they came for the patient, quiet young Brown man and I was not young, or brown or male. They came for the black men, and when they put me on the jury, he cried.  I didn’t save him.  Either one.  

I am used to not speaking up.  I need to get over that.

I have in the past stopped and helped people.  Women usually.  Children sometimes.  I have been brave before; I have been strong and stopped violence before.  

I know the cops were doing what they were called to do; I know the manager did what he thought he had to do; I know the other young men who worked there were blowing off steam, glad that it wasn’t them; that They hadn’t gotten in trouble.  I know the family was there wishing to God it would all work out and they could all just go home and forget it?  Demand justice?  Decry the little old lady with white hair who didn’t say anything when it might have helped.

I hope I will speak up the next time.  Just to ask, “What’s going on?”  and if they tell me it’s none of my business, which is the first or second tape that played in my head when I first saw the three standing there; one unmasked, two masked; two uniformed; one in street clothes; two White one Brown; two heading to middle age; one still young with his whole life ahead of him… I’ll just say that it IS my business, as they are/were right in front of me, and all of us are human beings.  Family, actually.

Forgive me, Amber Ruffin.  Forgive me, Martin King.  Forgive me George Floyd and Christian Cooper, and Dr. Susan Moore, and Eugene Goodman, and Harriet Tubman, and all the Black Brown Red and Yellow people, and all the poor people, and all the women and children who need someone to speak up for them.  To just ask, “what’s going on?”  Never again let me see something that raises questions within me and not actually raise those questions.  Never again let me be one who thinks even a little that it’s not my business.  Never again let me look someone in the eyes and not read the questions they have that it is much more dangerous for them to ask.  Never again let me think that there is any danger for me in any of this.  Let me never again worry that I will be rocking the boat or might be getting in trouble.  Never again let me fall into the old invisible, not my union, doesn’t matter to me place that I learned to climb into for survival so long ago.  Never again, Lord.  Let me Never Again not speak up when doing so makes it dangerous or insulting to any one, especially if they are not White.

To say, “Are you really handcuffing that young man because he has no mask on?  I have a mask in my car… in fact, I think they sell masks here… What’s going on?”  

Make this a prayer.

Rewrite someday, soon.

Send as a Pondering and as a Letter to the Editor, or as a Special Sunday article for the Star.

B

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