Never Forget to Say Their Names

Witness for JusticeAs George Floyd lay dying, pinned to asphalt by police, he could be heard calling for his mother whom we now know is deceased. Twice this 46-year-old black man, himself a father, called for his mama with his dying breath. In 8 minutes and 45 seconds, Mr. George Floyd was asphyxiated by a police officer who refused to remove his knee from his neck. He died calling for his mama when all other pleas of mercy failed.

I’ve watched that video more times than is good for my soul.

I’ve watched, not because I needed to see, but because I cannot turn away.

I watched because too often in this country black children die by public execution and black mothers are helpless to save them.

My mind traveled back to memories of Lezley McSpadden, the mother of 18-year-old Michael Brown, Jr., watching her son lie on the hot asphalt of Canfield Drive for 4 hours behind yellow tape, where an officer – self-appointed as judge and jury – found him guilty of being a black man and executed him with at least 8 bullets to his body from 8 feet away within 90 seconds of seeing him.

I thought about Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant III, forced to watch the state sanctioned murder of her 22-year-old black son, held to the concrete by the knee of a police officer on his head while another shot him in his back.

I thought about Sabrina Fulton, the mother of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, listening over and over again to the screams of her black son killed by a white vigilante who felt sanctioned to kill him becausehis black hooded body threatened his white existence.

I thought about Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, left to live with the knowledge that her 12-year-old black son was such a threat to armed white officers that one jumped from his car and immediately shot him on a playground without even asking his name.

I thought about Wanda Cooper-Jones’ 25-year-old son, Ahmaud Arbery, who was not free to run in Brunswick without white vigilantes hunting him down and shooting him for sport. I thought about how the word of a white man was enough to justify the hunt to law enforcement until the public saw the tape.

I thought about Khatiadu Diallo, the mother of 23-year-old Amadou Diallo, assassinated by firing squad at the hands of 4 officers who fired 41 shots, 19 of which riddled his body, in front of his NYC apartment.

Tears flow with memories of Lucy McBath, the mother of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who was killed for playing his music too loud; Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of 28-year-old Sandra Bland, arrested for offending white fragility and found dead in a mystery with some usual suspects; Wanda McDade, mother of 38-year-old black trans man Tony McDade, killed by police in Tallahassee, Florida; Tamika Palmer, mother of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, who couldn’t even sleep in peace. I think about Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett. And I think about Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Afro-Semitic Palestinian who many name God.

George Floyd died calling for his momma.

I believe she heard his plea.

There is a strange fascination with the lessons black mothers teach our children in an effort to save their lives. I confess I wonder what lessons must white mothers teach to save the souls of theirs.

Traci Blackmon is Associate General Minister, Justice and Local Church Ministries for the United Church of Christ.

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