We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Chains: Jamar Clark, White Supremacy, and Me

Learn more about the Jamar Clark case with independent reporting from Unicorn Riot.

On March 30, when County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that there would be no charges in the fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark, my neighbors took to the streets, and I went with them. Hundreds of us marched to the Government Center, chanting “Blacks Lives Matter” and “Prosecute the Police.”

As we marched, I saw groups of onlookers, mostly white, pull out their phones and take pictures of us. They were observers. They were outside of the action. I felt angry; I wanted them to put down their phones and follow us. I wanted to scream “Don’t think that this isn’t about you!”

A few months ago, I was one of them.

I used to think that the racial strife in our country had nothing to do with me. See, I’m a middle class white woman. I’m liberal, well-meaning. When I heard about the police shooting blacks in places like Ferguson and Baltimore, I was sympathetic. My thought was “It’s too bad some people are still so racist.” I was glad someone was speaking up, but frankly, I thought that the protests in those cities went too far. It made me uncomfortable.

Because, y’know, the police system works pretty well for me. When I see the police, I feel safe. And when I see a black man… well, I get a little nervous.

I wanted the institutions to be held accountable. I wanted the police to stop being so racist.  Then sometime this fall, it began to strike me. This isn’t just about the police. This is about me, too.

That fear I feel when I see a black man on the street? That’s racism.

The twinge of nervousness that has kept me from making close friends of color? That’s racism.

My ability to stand by, sympathetically unengaged, while innocents are gunned down and an entire people is made to live in fear? That’s racism.

I’m a racist. None of my good, kind thoughts can absolve me.

As a Christian, that realization brought a whole load of theology right down on my head. If I’m a racist, that means I’m a sinner. And it’s true! Racism feels as sticky, as debased, as woven into my flesh as any sin I can imagine. And if I’m a sinner, it means that I need salvation.

Now, you would think that as a lifelong Christian and a leader in the church, I would have realized this before, but somehow my sin and my need for grace was always in the abstract.

Now I know. It’s not just our institutions that need to repent and change. I need to repent. I need to be changed.

It was in the midst of these realizations that, 4 miles from my home, Jamar Clark was fatally shot in the head by the police.

Jamar was 24. He was black. Unarmed. Witnesses say he was subdued, maybe even handcuffed. The police say he was wrestling for the officer’s gun. The entire scene, from the arrival of the police to the moment when the shots rang out, lasted only 61 seconds.

This is about me.

My brother is only a year younger than Jamar. I love him as much as life. When he makes mistakes, I know he’ll be able to get up from them. Jamar never got up from that sidewalk. He’s never going to. Jamar is my brother. They shot my brother.

This is about me.

I started marching with my neighbors to demand that the police be held accountable, chanting “the whole damn system is guilty as hell.” It’s true. But those two cops weren’t some kind of inhuman racist pigs; they were just white people with guns, and the legal right to use them. When they took down Jamar, they thought they were protecting me.

This is about me. It’s about Jamar. It’s about all of us, and none of us are off the hook.

When we march, we chant “Black lives matter.” Then we chant “Your life matters. My life matters. Our lives matter.” We say “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” I have chains to lose, too. Those chains keep me afraid. They do it in the name of keeping me safe. If that’s safety, I don’t want to be safe anymore.

This Easter season, I proclaim that Christ has redeemed me from the power of death. And he’s redeeming me, too, from those chains.

My Lord was a young, brown man, feared, tortured and killed by a police state in the name of protecting the powers that be. In his death, all of the Death of the world–death in war, death in police violence, the death of dignity, the deaths we suffer when we are kept apart from each other–all of it has met its end. Christ is risen, and we are healed. But we step out of church into a reality in which death still seems to reign supreme. What do we do then?

I know what I’m doing. I’m grieving the death of my brother Jamar, and I’m doing it with the very neighbors I used to be afraid of. I’m raising my voice in protest and in prayer. I’m letting this be about me, and stepping with whatever courage I can muster into repentance and renewal.

3 comments on “We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Chains: Jamar Clark, White Supremacy, and Me

  1. It’s been quite … interesting/engaging/compelling to watch you crash headlong from being white woman in the woods with her thoughts toward being white woman engaging her whiteness and seeking community with and to learn from the neighbors (or color and otherwise) around you in this “whole new world” down here. Glad to be journeying alongside/nearby.

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