“Free, White and Twenty-One”: Who’s Holding Believers in White Supremacy Accountable?

A.J. Laguerre, 19, Jerald Gallion, 29, and Angela Michelle Carr, 52, were shot and killed on a Saturday afternoon at a Dollar General store in New Town, a predominantly African American neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida. The shooter was “free, white and twenty-one.” The phrase is an American idiom and means that he was “beholden to no one.”

They died on August 26, and I just can’t move past it. My head is still spinning in this grief cycle as it’s only been a year since the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. I was born in Pensacola, Florida, but moved to upstate New York at 16. Today, I don’t know if I’m coming or going.

I have these visions of a raceless kin-dom that is coming. But I still see what’s right in front of me. White supremacy propping itself up with more and more dead bodies.

Death is in the air and it’s sickening. Where are your sackcloth and ashes? Why are we not crying out in the streets? 

Why does a self-proclaimed advanced democratic society, a first world nation, and a global leader continue to allow the mass murder of innocent people? Better still, what say you, Christians, lovers of God and neighbor, who will cross an ocean to help “those people” but can’t hear the blood crying out for justice in your own country? 

“Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent,” Hannah Arendt said. “Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course, it ends in power’s disappearance.” 

We, in America, have been relating to each other according to racialized identities for hundreds of years. It’s gone on for too long to pretend like we don’t know the rationale behind our place, this social position, what is at work or at play: silence, indifference, complicity, pride and privilege, just to name a few.

I am bearing witness to somatic sovereignty and our kinship as God’s children. For those baptized believers, I hold the conviction that if we follow Jesus, then we can’t look down our noses at anyone or look away when a racist points his gun at African American people. Made for community—not competition or comparison—ridding ourselves of the ideology of white supremacy and divesting ourselves of its privileges should be a priority for North American Christians. 

Because it can’t be that Jesus only walks to church for Bible study on Wednesday or the weekly worship service on Sunday morning. We can’t seriously believe that Jesus would walk past an injustice.

Yes, I am called to the work and witness of The Raceless Gospel. But who is holding the believers in white supremacy accountable? What is the work for those who are hate-filled and practice evil, who work with principalities and powers that strive to deface the Imago Dei in certain human beings? 

Because I hear more about forgiveness and reconciliation in times like these. They say, “We should pray,” but what are your hands doing to ensure that he doesn’t aim his gun at another member of an African American community? Also, what are you asking me to forgive and what are we reconciling ourselves to if it is just going to happen again?

This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama that resulted in the deaths of four little girls: Addie Mae Collins, 14, Cynthia Wesley, 14, Carole Robertson, 14, and Denise McNair, 11. They were killed on a Sunday morning by members of the Ku Klux Klan on September 15, 1963. Their deaths galvanized the civil rights movement and ensured the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Yet, A.J. Laguerre, Jerald Gallion and Angela Michelle Carr are dead. Celestine Chaney, Roberta Drury, Pearly Young, Heyward Patterson, Katherine Massey, Ruth Whitfield, Aaron Salter, Andre Mackneil, Margus Morrison and Gerri Talley are dead.

Their murderers are not “lone wolves.” No, white supremacists run in packs and come from “good” families. Also, this is not new information as the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1865–and to be clear, there were female members too. Who do you think created, laundered, starched and ironed their costumes? 

It was a family hobby and seemingly a rite of passage for some. So, don’t feign surprise or wonder aloud, “How could this have happened?” It seems that some people will do anything except hold white supremacists accountable.

Don’t call these killers “deranged” or attempt to distance them from our society. There have been thousands of murderers of African American people, sacrificed to the god of white supremacy. Their dead bodies are lifted up in the news for about a week or until the public outrage wears off.

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