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A Time to Speak


I’m reeling.

I watched the video, all 10 minutes 8 seconds of it, and I still can’t absorb the magnitude of what I saw.

Let’s peel back the politics and use just nouns, no adjectives.

I saw a man slowly choke the life out of another man while a third man stood guard and a fourth man filmed it on his phone, helpless to intervene. I saw a man continue to press another man’s neck beneath his knee long after the man on the ground lost consciousness, and quite clearly after he was already dead. (EMT’s have confirmed there was no pulse when they arrived on the scene.)

I don’t like to watch videos like this, filmed in this way. Too often, I feel they are out of context, misleading, don’t tell the whole story, and I don’t want to be duped by sensationalism filmed on a bystander’s phone.

But this one was different.

I started it, not intending to finish it, but then I could not turn it off. I felt sick to my stomach, and I felt the absolute horror of knowing there was no “other side” to this story. There was no justification for what I was seeing. None. I had to watch it to the end because this is the kind of thing a person needs to remember. It’s something of such magnitude that one feels compelled to bear witness.

And then it ended.

I closed my laptop and sat at my desk, staring at nothing as it sank in:

I had just watched a man die.

I got a tattoo last winter. I posted a picture of myself getting the tattoo on my Facebook page, and of course my friends were curious. “What is it?? Post a pic!”

“Not now," I said. "Later.”

The tattoo meant too much to me, its message ran too deep, to just glibly post it on social media. I knew the right time would come to post the picture.

This is that time.

The quote comes from a novel in verse called Deaf Republic, written by Ilya Kaminsky. The book (in the words of the LA Review) “offers a long, narrative sequence about the fictional town of Vasenka, where, after a young deaf boy has been killed by occupying soldiers, the entire town chooses silence over speaking — and deafness over hearing.” I attended a reading of this poem in Cambridge last year, and one pair of lines grabbed me with a power I can’t quite explain:

At the trial of God, we will ask: Why did you allow all this?

And the answer will be an echo: Why did you allow all this?

This is the tension we are living with today in our world that seems to be falling apart all around us.

We are experiencing a global pandemic, which is killing thousands. Some call it apocalyptical. An act of God.

Why did you allow all this???

We are staring dumbfounded at our newsfeeds, watching a man die. Watching Minneapolis burn.

Why did you allow all this???

 

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