Today is my birthday and it seemed like a great time to share about the blessings of new birth and grandchildren (see Love, Shalem Friday Blog). That plan got upended when a friend sent me a clip a week ago about the murder of Jonathan Price by a police officer in Wolfe City, Texas. She suggested that we hold a Black Lives Matter demonstration that Friday at a foot bridge over the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to draw attention to this tragedy and the need for change. I learned more about Jonathan Price and his death, and we held the demonstration.
Jonathan Price was a 31-year-old Black man trying to be a Good Samaritan at a gas station. In this small town of 1500, his attempt to do good resulted in his death from four shots from a white policeman after being tasered and putting his hands up.
Most of us will never hear about Jonathan Price and his story. Unlike George Floyd, whose death by a knee on the neck for over eight minutes was captured on video and shown on the national news for weeks, Jonathan Price’s death got a few minutes of national news attention.
Yet, we must all say his name. Jonathan Price. News coverage of any length does not change attitudes and laws that perpetuate systemic racism and attacks on Black and Brown people in so many ways. I live in a small city considered progressive by many, Greenbelt, Maryland. There is more tie-die and aging hippies in Greenbelt than in most cities in America. Yet the City Council is slow to consider and support a bill for police reform for the city.
In the state of Maryland, a blue state that likes to lead, the State legislature has so far refused to bring to Committee a bill known as Anton’s Law intended to advance police reform state wide. This bill requires changing the Police Bill of Rights, and so far, there is not support for this change (See Update on Police Reform).
When I hear the words Black Lives Matter, I think about my youngest grandchildren and the joy of holding them shortly after birth. Jonathan Price’s life is as precious as every child born. Yet because he was born Black in America, his life was over at the age of 31. His mom has only the memory of holding her newborn and watching him grow into a man respected in his community.
In March 2019, Geraldine and I were blessed with our fifth grandchild, Hazel. A few months later, our sixth grandchild, Philip Jr., was born.
We were invited to visit and hold our youngest grandchildren hours after they were born. We were ecstatic to be invited to visit so soon after the birth. For both Hazel and Philip, we arrived to see the proud moms and dads beaming despite the long ordeal of childbirth.
After settling in and hearing about the delivery, on both occasions, my wife was offered a chance to hold the newborn. Her face was radiant, like pure light. She had longed to have a big family, and circumstances resulted in her having one son. To hold Hazel and Philip, and know she was connected, was like a taste of heaven to her. Her smile and gentle rocking made that vividly clear.
After a bit, as she held Hazel, she turned and asked if I would like to hold her. I had not really thought about that possibility; I’m not sure why not. Yet it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Being less experienced in baby holding, I awkwardly took Hazel as my wife helped me adjust her in my arms. I gazed at Hazel and took delight in her pure beauty. I rocked her and savored her closeness and warmth. She rested quietly in my arms.
Soon, it was time to return Hazel to her mother, who smiled widely despite the tiredness of a long labor. She took Hazel and I watched intently as she adjusted Hazel in her arms for one of the first times. I mused that she was learning how to hold her precious daughter and smile and connect with her. Literally and figuratively, this would be her task going forward—to hold Hazel in her arms, to love her and to help her learn how to pass that love on to others.
Our experience visiting baby Philip shortly after birth was similar. There was some conversation, yet it was like a soft background to the presence of baby Philip and his beaming heart. His presence filled the room and the hearts of all present.
Love is the answer to injustice and senseless deaths. Love is a verb and requires action. It is not fair, right or loving for there be a difference in life expectancy and experience based on the color of a child’s skin.
Think about the infants you have held and cherished. Think about all the moms of infants who are born into an unfair system because of race. Until there is more than news coverage and lip service, all lives are not equal. As you celebrate your birthday and the birthdays of people you love, ask yourself what you might do to help dismantle our racist systems and end the violence and discrimination against people who are not white.
Portions of this article first appeared in Shalem Friday Blog , December 12, 2019.