“We need you defecting from White supremacy and changing the narrative of White supremacy by breaking White silence.”
– Alicia Garza, co-founder Black Lives Matter
White Awake’s goal is to support white people in educating ourselves, engaging in spiritual practice and community ritual to walk down the path of inner transformation. However, education and soul work, on their own, are not enough. Transformation requires reflection and action. As Unitarian Universalist Rev. Rebecca Parker wrote in her seminal essay, “Not Somewhere Else, But Here”:
Racial injustice is perpetuated by the passive absence of whites who are numbly disengaged with the social realities of our time. Conversely, racial injustice will fail to thrive as more and more of us show up as present and engaged citizens.
adrienne maree brown, co-editor of Octavia’s Brood, puts it this way:
“White supremacy is an overwhelming crisis for humanity, one that is making it impossible for any human to evolve in right relationship with the planet and the species. It has not, and will not, be resolved merely by Black and other non-white people fighting for a change – it must be unlearned, relinquished by those who walk with the privileges of whiteness.”
To put it simply, racism is not going away on it’s own. There is no way for us to abandon white supremacy without deep introspection, as this social construct is intimately bound up with our very sense of self. However, reflection is hollow without action, and transformation only occurs when action and introspection are in balance.
In order to step into action, we need support. One place to receive this support is the rapidly growing organization: Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice. White Awake is proud to say we are a SURJ affiliate organization. We encourage you to sign up for their national mailings, participate in basebuilding and action conference calls, and access their site to look for local chapters in your area (SURJ boasts 100 local chapters, and counting). If there is no local chapter near you, consider starting your own! SURJ offers a Chapter Building Toolkit on their site, and can connect you with other local leadership; we are learning together. White Awake can help you organize your educational practice; SURJ can support you in taking action.
We offer you this story from a local chapter of SURJ (in Washington, DC) that integrated action with reflection and ritual as part of a public awareness campaign on November 22, 2015, National Day of Action for Tamir Rice. Given the failure of indictment of the officers involved in Tamir’s shooting, 13 months after his death, it is all the more important to keep Tamir’s story alive in public conversation. Black Lives Matter organizers are currently meeting in Cleveland, to plan their response, and Color of Change is launching a campaign to move prosecutors like Timothy J. McGinty out of office. What will be our response?
#YearWithoutTamir – Washington, DC local chapter of SURJ – Canvassing and Memorial
The afternoon was unusually cold, but still over 12 folks came out to form small groups of two or three who would fan out through the Clevelend Park neighborhood in Washington, DC’s affluent Northwest quadrant, to knock on doors and start conversations about Tamir Rice. Drawing on the resource kit made available on SURJ national’s website (here), these small pairs and groups of “regular, white folk” signed people up for the local SURJ mailing list, promoted Black Lives Matter yard signs, and reminded neighbors that this day was the one year anniversary of Tamir Rice’s death. Here’s a little piece of the script that the folks used while canvasing:
Notes: Be personal and curious about what the other person thinks/believes. Ask questions! Remember that “Why?” and “Tell me more about that…” are good follow ups.
STEP 1: START! (Approach the door and knock loudly, step back.)
Hi, my name is ____________ and I’m with Showing Up for Racial Justice. We’re out today talking about the Movement for Black Lives and the anniversary of Tamir Rice’s death. Have you heard of Tamir Rice? (Wait for their response.)
Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old boy, who was shot and killed by police one year ago today in Cleveland. He was shot within 2 seconds of the police arriving on the scene.
It makes me (sad/angry/??) that this happens in any community, let alone to a child.
STEP 2: HAVE A CONVERSATION
In the past 18 months, there has been an outcry across the country about the police brutality, racial profiling, and discrimination that black people experience. I’m out here today because …(Say why doing anti-racism work is important to you – personal/authentic.)
How about you? What has been your reaction to stories like Tamir’s?
Are there people in your life who are impacted by racism?
How do you try to work against racism? Why is that important to you?
STEP 3 …
After a couple of hours knocking on doors, and initiating conversations, the groups reconvened in a local library to warm up, then headed down to the nearby metro station – in a bustling, business area of the neighborhood – where they would conduct a simple, public memorial for Tamir.
SURJ organizers had prepared posters, and a script, for the small crowd that convened in a semi circle on either side of the altar (pictured in photo at the top of this post). The script was divided into paragraphs that could be read by different people. After reading their paragraph, each person laid a stem of flowers near the base of the street-side memorial. When the story was complete, the group maintained a moment of silence, and then individuals were invited to share from their hearts. After spending some time sharing, about Tamir, about the canvassing, about the desire for real justice and an equitable society, the group closed with a simple dedication of the merits.
Below is the story of Tamir Rice’s last day. As you read it, contemplate within your own heart: What is arising? What do you long for? How are you called to respond?
Tamir Rice was 12 years old when he was shot and killed, one year ago today, by the Cleveland police.
His mother says that he was incredibly sweet and bright, and had a wonderful imagination. His friends say that when it came time for Tamir to pick his super powers for their games in the park, Tamir always wanted the power of super strength to stop “the bad guys.” At 12-years-old he still watched Curious George. It was his favorite cartoon.
On November 22, 2014, Tamir was playing in the park outside his family’s home. Seen on a local security camera entertaining himself, alone, Tamir makes snowballs, walks around, and plays with a pellet gun.
Concerned, a man calls 911 to report Tamir. The call itself was very thorough and reported that Tamir appeared to be a young kid and that the gun he was flashing was probably fake. Tragically, these facts were left out when the police dispatch operator radioed the call into local officers.
Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback responded to the call. In less than 2 seconds after arriving on the scene, and with no verbal warning, Loehmann shot Tamir in the abdomen at point blank range. For over four minutes, the two officers stand beside the boy, offering no medical assistance, while he bleeds out into the snow. Tamir only received medical attention when a nearby FBI agent came upon the scene. The agent said that when he attended to Tamir, the boy responded to his voice:
“He turned over and acknowledged and looked at me, and he reached for my hand.”
Tamir’s 14 year old sister, Tajai, was inside the park’s recreation center when she heard the gunshots and learned what happened. The surveillance footage shows Tajai running towards her brother’s side, but as she neared Tamir, Officer Garmback forced her to the ground, handcuffed her, and placed her in the back of the police car, less than 10 feet from her dying brother.
Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, learned of the shooting moments after it happened and went out to the park. She says:
“I noticed my son laying down on the ground, and I went charging and yelling and everything at the police because they wouldn’t let me through.
Then I saw my daughter in the back of the police car as I was trying to get through to my son. The police told me to calm down or they would put me in the back of the police car”
Nearly 10 minutes after the incident, emergency responders arrive and take Tamir to the hospital. His mother was not allowed to accompany her son in the back, but required to sit in the front of the ambulence truck as though she was a passenger. Tamir died overnight. The medical examiner’s report that ruled the boy’s death a homicide.
The grand jury investigation has dragged out for one entire year, and still no decision has been made about whether or not Officer Loehmann will be prosecuted for any crime.
We know that Tamir’s case is not isolated, but is part of a larger pattern in which police kill, on average, one black person per day. Over 30% of the victims police kill are unarmed, many of them going about their daily business – shopping, driving, and, in Tamir’s case, playing in the park. The website “mapping-police-violence-dot-org” recorded 292 of police killings over the course of six months in 2015. So far only 3 of these have resulted in officers being charged with a crime.
We take a moment of silence today to remember Tamir’s death, with any chance of justice for Tamir and his family still so far away, one year later. During this moment of silence, we allign our hearts with all victims of police violence and excessive force. May Tamir rest in peace. May our society know peace. May our society be just.