I love hot weather and family celebrations—and yet I hate the month of August.
My sister and I were born in August. As a child, I confessed Christ in August. As an adult, I vowed fidelity to my bride in August.
Despite the annual celebrations of these significant events, my heart always hurts, literally and profoundly, toward the end of the month. Over these last few trips around the sun, I’ve attempted to self-diagnose my perennial pain. I’ve come to some conclusions I would prefer not to face. My heart, however, won’t allow me to avoid them. I hate August because it reminds me that some view bodies like mine as disposable.
I don’t mourn my mortality theologically. All flesh is like grass and our bodies are destined for dust. Those of us who are in Christ are awaiting new bodies. What hurts my heart is that in the country where I live my body is disposable existentially. This was tattooed onto my heart around my 13th birthday.
That summer I saw the image of Emmett Till’s bloated, beaten-beyond-recognition body in a magazine. As I saw it, I reflected on the fact that I was almost the same age as Till had been. When he boarded a train on August 20, 1955 to go from Chicago to Mississippi to visit relatives, he had to have passed by Kankakee, Illinois, where 20 years later I sat, horrified, at the image of his remains. At school, I read in history books that “20 and odd Negroes” from the White Lion, an English ship, were brought to the Virginia colony at Point Comfort on the James River on August 20, 1619, and sold for food. Yet when I saw the relatively recent magazine images, I began to suspect August was still a dangerous month for bodies like mine—even hundreds of years later.
This suspicion is reinforced annually.
Every year I actually read Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech from the August 28, 1963 march on Washington. I’m always struck by the same line, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” The fact that 57 years later we’re still saying the same thing, albeit in different ways, is maddening. I wouldn’t have room to finish this article were I to list all the hashtags of unarmed black and brown bodies who’ve been killed by law enforcement without the benefit of due process or a trial. As Hurricane Laura decimates the South I’m also haunted by the black and brown bodies that were stranded on rooftops during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
I was once again reminded of something August won’t let me forget.
So, after the past few months of horrible racial atrocities, when this August comes around, and I watch a video of a police officer pumping seven bullets into an unarmed black body, my heart hurts all over again. Until an hour before I wrote these words, Jacob Blake’s paralyzed body was handcuffed to a hospital bed, clinging to life by the grace of God. I was once again reminded of something August won’t let me forget.
This August, however, the hurt is amplified by an egregious contrast.
Kyle Rittenhouse killed people in the middle of the street (on camera and in front of witnesses) and then, smoking rifle at his side, casually strolled past law enforcement. He didn’t run away. He didn’t hide. He showed no fear. He assumed there was something about his person that would allow him to approach law enforcement with a visible semi-automatic weapon that had just taken lives—and live to tell about it. More than a few witnesses pointed out that he had just shot several people. Yet he was able to leave the scene and the state.
When armed shooters (Kyle Rittenhouse, Dylan Roof, etc.) are apprehended without incident, and unarmed black people are killed out of fear that they might be armed, we have a more insidious problem than “a few bad apples.” This thing is cultural, pervasive, and abominable.
God did not color-code human dignity and worth.
If your default impulse is to try to justify the seven or eight bullet holes in Jacob Blake’s body—He’s no angel; What was in his system? He was probably reaching for a weapon; He should have complied; We don’t have all the facts—just consider the facts we actually do know about Kyle. He took lives in front of physical and digital witnesses. He’s alive. No bullet holes in his body. He will be charged and tried in court, not on the streets, as it should be in a just society.
The inconsistency between how these two bodies were treated in Kenosha reinforces my childhood suspicions. Those who claim my same convictions about Christ will be the first and loudest to castigate me for these observations. They’ll be the most proficient at finding some excuse for Rittenhouse, the most cavalier in discounting my trauma, the most eager to somehow find a “Marxist” or “Critical Race Theory” connection in my reflections. And that hurts my heart, literally and profoundly.
Seeing Like God
I hate August because I have a growing suspicion that no video evidence, no panel discussion, no theological argument will convince some to live out what we know to be true: God did not color-code human dignity and worth. Black and brown bodies are made in his image, like all others, and should not be desecrated or treated as disposable.
God, help us to see one another as you see us.
UPDATE 11/24/21: Subsequent information has revealed that Jacob Blake was armed with a knife. Also, an earlier version of this article referred to Kyle Rittenhouse as a “mass” shooter. I regret these editorial oversights. Collin Hansen, editor in chief, The Gospel Coalition