By Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune
I recently read an article that really bothered me. The author made the case that those protesting the grand jury decisions not to prosecute the officers involved in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown should not use the hashtag “All Lives Matter” because it waters down the focus on police brutality against African Americans, especially black males. In many ways, I don’t disagree. I get the rub. I know that African Americans are profiled and treated unfairly by some law enforcement officers. I get that too often cries from African Americans for justice are dismissed as whining or displaced anger or living in the past. All too often present-day realities of injustice and racism are disregarded as complaining, lack of forgiveness and holding on to days long since gone. I know that racism is not a thing of history books, old films and distant memories. It is real. It is alive. It is present and it is now.
Nevertheless, I was bothered and more than a little frustrated by this article because I really do believe that all lives matter. I have marched and protested and protested and marched. I have written letters and emails. I have signed petitions and talked to elected officials. I have shed more than a few tears, too. Lots and lots of tears. So, I am by no means trying to water down the magnitude or the gravity of the violence perpetuated against unarmed African Americans. Nor do I want to stick my head in the sand, sing a few rounds of “Kumbaya” and “We Shall Overcome,” and pretend that the bodies of African Americans lying dead in the streets are not piling up. I am clear that something has to be done about it!
But, there are other bodies and other kinds of brutality that weigh heavily on my mind and in my spirit. That’s why I want to say all lives matter. Then it occurred to me that #AllLivesMatter really might not be right either. Maybe what I really want as a rallying cry is #EVERYLifeMatters. For me, “every” speaks to the individual life, the distinct person created in the image and likeness of God. In my mind it suggests on a much deeper level the importance of not just the group but of each person in the group. I know that every.single.person is important to God so why wouldn’t every person be important to us?
- For the women and girls whose names we do not know but who have lost their lives to human trafficking — #EVERYLifeMatters
- For the more than 130 children killed in Pakistan by the Taliban — #EVERYLifeMatters
- For the countless women, men and children who have been collateral damage in wars that they did not start nor will they be able to end — #EVERYLifeMatters
- For the two cops killed by a pathological madman who first shot his girlfriend — #EVERYLifeMatters
- For the children around the world, including in the U.S, who will die because they don’t have enough to eat — #EVERYLifeMatters
- For the women, men and children who have suffered violence and abuse at the hand of a loved one– #EVERYLifeMatters
- For those whose lives have been torn apart by burying loved ones because of gun violence — #EVERYLifeMatters.
I say #EVERYLifeMatters because I think we need to not only change the laws and policies in our nation that allow some people to get away with murder, while others go to jail for life (or lose their lives) for misdemeanors; but, we also need to change the narrative, the script that is running in the back of someone’s mind when they see an African American and make an assessment about who they are. In that moment, I want them to see a person. I want them to see a life. I don’t want them to ascribe a subjective value to that life. I want them to see a person who deserves to live. I want them to see the life as more valuable than material things. I want them to see a person who is fearfully and wondrously made. But, I also want the same thing for others. I am no less grieved by Sandy Hook than I am by Cleveland or Ferguson or Staten Island. I am no less saddened by Pakistan than I am by the girls kidnapped in Nigeria or those who died in an Australian café because my hope and my prayer is that #EVERYLifeMatters without exception. Period.