Remarks At The Vigil of Lament for Jacob Blake

When I told my son, who graduated from ETHS (Evanston Township High School) just a few years after Jacob Blake, that I was going to speak at this vigil today, he said to me, “don’t say that what happened to Jacob Blake is tragic, say it’s a pandemic.” A tragedy implies an anomaly, not a pattern of behavior. Jacob is a son of our community, a beloved child of our country, a precious human being created in the image of God just like all of us. No one deserves to be shot in the back 7 times, especially by people responsible for protecting us. Yet violence against black and brown people at the hands of the police is a regular occurrence in our society, not a rarity. But we gather together today not to stoke our anger or sow seeds of division, but to pray for healing for Jacob and for our society.

Don’t get me wrong, healing doesn’t imply that we give law enforcement a pass when they commit violence against people. Healing doesn’t imply that officers don’t need to be held accountable for their actions or that our system of policing doesn’t need to change. Healing can only happen when we properly diagnose the disease and come together to eradicate it. This is not a cancer that can be cured by removing a few tumors; the cancer has metastasized and infects not only law enforcement, but our entire nation. We come together today and say, “not any more!” We will use our hands, hearts, feet, voices, and the ballot box to be God’s instruments of healing on this earth. We are called to be the healers who will cure our society from the pandemic of racism, hate, and the systems that prop them up.

I’m often asked about how to find hope in these difficult days. Being with all of you—people of good will who want to live in a just, loving, and compassionate society—gives me hope. But wanting is not enough, and hope is not passive. Hope is the vision that keeps us going when despair and frustration set in. Hope energizes us to keep protesting and lobbying, gathering and raising our voices, comforting and encouraging each other when the road to the society we want to live in is long, arduous, and full of potholes. And hope reminds us that the arc only bends toward justice if we bend it.

I conclude with the words of Julia Jackson, Jacob Blake’s mother. When I heard her speak these words the other day as her son lay in a hospital bed recovering from gunshot wounds, I was moved by her wisdom, love, and courage. From one mother to another, I stand with you, Julia, and your whole family in your pain and sorrow. We cry with you and pray for Jacob’s healing and the healing of our nation.

As Julia Jackson said: “As I have prayed for my son’s healing, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I also have been praying, even before this, for the healing of our country. We are the United States. Have we been united? Do you understand what’s going to happen when we fall? Because a house that is against each other cannot stand. To all of the police officers, I’m praying for you and your families. To all of the citizens, my Black and brown sisters and brothers, I’m praying for you. I believe that you are an intelligent being just like the rest of us. Everybody, let’s use our hearts, our love, and our intelligence to work together to show the rest of the world how humans are supposed to treat each other. America is great when we behave greatly.”

Let us behave greatly. AMEN