Statement regarding Unitarian Universalist responses to recent killings in Baton Rouge, Dallas & Falcon Heights

from the Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism Organizing Collective

We in the Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective had completed a demanding, fulfilling week leading programs at the UUA General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio, when two more inexplicable, inexcusable killings of Black men occurred at the hands of police. On July 5, 37-year-old Alton Sterling was shot several times at point-blank range while being held down by two Baton Rouge police officers. A day later, 32-year-old Philando Castile was shot multiple times by a St. Anthony police officer in Falcon Heights, MN, during a traffic stop for an allegedly faulty tail light.

Both killings were well-documented: Several witnesses video-recorded Sterling’s death, and Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds live-streamed the immediate aftermath of his being shot, as life drained from him and her four-year-old daughter tried to comfort her from the back seat. The recordings went viral, and sparked protests around the country.

On July 7, at the end of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, a sniper opened fire on police officers, killing five and wounding 11 other people, including nine officers. Ten days later, three Baton Rouge police officers were killed responding to an early Sunday morning gunfight.

Following the killings of those police officers, outraged citizens have pointed fingers of blame at activists in the Movement for Black Lives generally and those associated with Black Lives Matter in particular. Sentiments that “blue lives matter” and “all lives matter” have gained momentum as anti-black, pro-police rhetoric continues to rise nationally.

We feel compelled to urge all Unitarian Universalists and other people of good conscience not to equate the system-wide killing of Black people by police with the killing of police by people unaffiliated with the Movement for Black Lives. Doing so makes life more dangerous for Black people who are already at great risk.

From our many conversations with Black Unitarian Universalists across the country, we know that these events have taken a severe toll. At a time when our need for emotional support and spiritual sustenance is great, many Black UUs are not finding resonance in their local congregations. Sometimes that lack of resonance presents as indifference and an inability to identify with Black people’s pain; at other times, it is experienced as the unquestioned alliance of UU congregations and ministers with law enforcement, the very purveyors of state-sanctioned Black death and Black pain whom we protest.

We find ourselves particularly dismayed by the willingness of UU congregations and ministers who have shown support for the Movement for Black Lives and now feel compelled to signify their allegiance to police officers and policing itself. As members of an over-policed and underserved constituency targeted by the police for harassment, economic exploitation and random violence often resulting in death, we wonder:

  • Who does this allegiance to law enforcement serve?
  • How does it undercut the messaging of the Movement for Black Lives and take focus away from the need for fundamental restructuring of law enforcement, if not the altogether abolition of law enforcement as we have known it?
  • What are Black Unitarian Universalists to make of their congregations’ and their ministers’ public affirmations of an institution known to oppress and kill them from its inception?

Regardless of how well any UU minister or congregation relates to its local police force, the systemic nature of police brutality causes many Black Unitarian Universalists to distrust those who publicly align themselves with it. Black Lives Matter is a peaceful, principled movement whose members are as shocked and saddened by the killing of human beings as anyone, including those who work as police officers.

Recently BLUU endorsed the #Vision4BlackLives Policy Platform which includes the following:

“Together, we demand an end to the wars against Black people. We demand that the government repair the harms that have been done to Black communities in the form of reparations and targeted long-term investments. We also demand a defunding of the systems and institutions that criminalize and cage us.”

These demands, while grand, are also very simple. They add specificity to our continued fight for the dignity and humanity of all Black people. The time has come to step up. We invite all UUs and people of faith to come forward and take action at this critical point in our movement towards collective liberation.

Opportunities for Action: