The smoke is rising, but there are no batteries in the smoke detector. The crisis is coming, but no one is sounding the alarm.
In the last few months I cannot count how many times I’ve heard “Milwaukee is the next Ferguson.” There is a palpable feeling within the community that folks are sick and tired of being sick and tired. As I walk with Dontre Hamilton’s family, supporters and activists, we see and feel that justice delayed is justice denied.
But Milwaukee is not on the verge of crisis because of Dontre or Christopher Manney, the officer that shot him 14 times. It goes so much deeper than this.
Today is the birthday of Darius Simmons. Darius was the 13-year old member of my church shot and killed by his 75-year old white neighbor in 2012. His tragic death has done more to shape me as a pastor than anything else. And his death has done more to proclaim a gospel of justice than a lifetime of sermons. As a victim of senseless gun violence, our companion synod – The Lutheran Church of El Salvador – named him a martyr for the cause of peace.
I share these two stories because they exemplify a truth about Milwaukee that is being silenced in the media and ignored by city leadership. These are all our sons. These are all our daughters. These are our children. Stray bullet. Racist, paranoid neighbor. Police shooting. Drive by. Death in police custody. Shooting on a playground. Drug deal gone bad. These are our children.
The violence that is a plague on this city lives in our neighborhoods. It touches our communities, moves into our homes.
And all of us stand against violence. All. Of. Us.
I stand at the bedsides of young men that have been shot. They pray for peace. Even as they go out and get a gun themselves, it is a reaction, a fear, a need to protect. But these young men still pray for peace.
But rather than see a common thread woven through our communities in this desire for peace, the story becomes this:
All those folks at the fire and police commission meeting, where’s their outrage at the shooting of a 5 year old? – Local African American Media Personality
If some of the people here gave a good goddamn about the victimization of people in this community by crime I’d take some of their invective more seriously.” Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn
Let me be clear. I give a Good God Damn. And I’m not alone. We all give a Good God Damn.
When our leadership dismisses the grief, the pain, the anger that living in our neighborhoods causes, gasoline is added to the simmering coals from years of racial and economic oppression. If you cannot see that we are outraged at the tragic shooting of a 5 year old, you are either willfully ignorant or aggressively stupid.
My congregation is filled with Gold Star Mothers that lost sons to gun violence in Milwaukee. Each of their stories is different. The circumstances are unique. But because of the shared grief of burying sons from bullets, they stand together in support of each other and working for justice in this city. They know through God that #AllLivesMatter even when our city leadership does everything it can to disprove that #BlackLivesMatter and enforce policies that say #SomeLivesMatter.
If we want to talk about the victimization of people in this community, let’s talk about a chief that labels and targets neighborhoods, encourages racial profiling and does more to drive a wedge between cops and community making it harder for his officers to do their jobs.
Instead of tactics and soundbites meant to divide the community, where are the healers? Instead of dismissing our pain by canceling public meetings or designing public comment times to be limited ensuring that voices will not be heard (on all sides mind you), how about creating a space for truth telling. Instead of looking at every situation in isolation, where is the examination of patterns and practices? Instead of provoking anger, when do our leaders show compassion and sympathy?
We give a good god damn. Do you? We are working for peace in our city. Are you?