As I walked into the Arcata Police Department, I was immediately aware of the posters on every wall of David Josiah Lawson. His smiling brown eyes and kind face reawakened the unanswered questions that I've had the privilege of placing in a dusty corner of my brain all summer, covered in white skin and blond hair. The skin I live in and my dearth of close black friends eases the privilege of forgetting the reality that so many people of color live in every day.
I usually end up wearing my clerical collar while marching for human rights and justice. I don the collar, feeling a bit out of sorts by bringing attention to my calling as a pastor but knowing the importance of reminding people that God hasn't forgotten their pain. Those walking near me might experience relief and comfort knowing a person who understands a side of spirituality is nearby. Others may have a visceral gut reaction of anger and distrust because of prior hurt or trauma committed in the name of God.
When I take my collar off, the only people who know I am a pastor are those with whom I've previously connected, one way or another.
This is similar for law enforcement. Some feel safe and comforted when they see a police uniform. Others feel trauma and fear. When the uniform comes off, the only people who know the officers are in law enforcement are those with whom they've had a previous connection, one way or another.
Unlike a collar or a uniform, skin cannot be removed.
The reality our black brothers and sisters live in every day is not one that can be taken off and hung up in the closet. They wear it when walking down the street, going to pool parties, putting their hoodies on, choosing to walk on the other side of the road, listening to music, leaving a party, selling water bottles to thirsty folk, driving home with their child in the car, playing in a park.
From the racially charged political climate of our nation all the way down to the prejudices and racism bleeding from the bedrock of Humboldt Bay, Josiah's slaying exposes the real fear people of color in Humboldt experience every day. Regardless of the motivation of his killer on April 15, I can feel unrest and fearful frustration from unanswered questions growing every day as students begin to return to HSU.
This unrest needs to be felt, recognized and not ignored. The cry of Josiah's mother, Charmaine, must be heard and responded to, supported and held. We must create space in our hearts and prayers to feel this pain, to acknowledge it and allow it to shape us into people who can see how we may have been complicit in prejudice and systemic racism. We must become people who will wake up, confess how we've been wrong and seek to repair what we or others have broken in our county.
May you be mindful of the pain, fear and anger many HSU students are arriving with over the next few weeks. May you pray with me for the investigators, law enforcement, faculty, and counselors hoping to provide answers and healing. May empathy and grace abound within and beyond Arcata and may you join in the song of restoration.
Bethany Cseh is a pastor at Catalyst Church and Arcata United Methodist Church. A foster and adoptive parent who lives in Blue Lake, she is currently in graduate school at Claremont Theological Seminary.
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