#TreasuresofDarknessDay 15: Genesis 4:10
“Now the first man, he from the earth, had sex with the woman, she the source of life, and she became pregnant and gave birth to one who was possessed, and she said, “I have created man, just like YHWH!” Then she gave birth to his brother, who was like breath. And it came to pass that the one who was like breath took care of the flocks, while the possessed one cultivated the ground.
At the appointed time, the possessed one brought some of the fruit of the ground for an offering to YHWH. And the one who was like breath brought an offering from the firstlings of his flock — indeed, he brought the fattest of them. And YHWH looked at him and his offering, but for the possessed one and his gift YHWH spared not even a glance. So the possessed one began to consume himself with rage, and his face fell.
Then YHWH said to the possessed one, “Why are you enraged, and why has your face fallen?” Isn’t it good to do good? But in the absence of goodness, sin is there, crouching in front of the door. It lusts after you, but you must subdue it.”
The possessed one said to his brother, the one who was like breath- “Come, let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, the possessed one attacked his brother, the one who was like breath, and killed him.
Then YHWH said to the possessed one, “Where is your brother’s breath?” And he replied, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s keeper?” And YHWH said, “What have you accomplished? The voice of your brother’s blood is pleading with me from within the earth!’
(Genesis 4:1–10, translation mine)
Today’s featured verse, Genesis 4:10 is, perhaps not surprisingly, featured in the hall of remembrance at the Unites States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, and in many holocaust/Shoah memorials and museums around the world. Visitors of every faith to these haunted halls are confronted with two of the central tenets of Judaism and Christianity writ large in this short verse-first, that from the earliest days of our existence, we humans have been capable of unthinkable horrors, and second, that our fates are irrevocably bound up in one another’s actions.
In my undergraduate work, I completed a minor in Holocaust and genocide studies, focusing on faith during the Shoah-particularly that of the perpetrators. Much of what I learned about that time is heart-stoppingly familiar in our own, particularly in my own Lutheran context, especially the constant refrain of “G-d loves everyone, but… he shouldn’t have…they shouldn’t have…you shouldn’t have…we wouldn’t have killed you if only…” I know how these refrains end. I have seen the crematoria, I have slept in the barracks, I hold each day in my hand a fragment of bone that I picked up from a path in Birkenau to remind me that I could, at any moment, be both victim and perpetrator, if I don’t keep watch for that beast who crouches outside the door.
It is not a surprise that quote is used so often to mark the Shoah, and neither is it a surprise that, on the day that this text was appointed for this blog, the defense in the case against Jeronimo Yanez will be arguing for his charges to be dismissed, because, Yes, he killed Philando Castile, but…
Satan loves that word, “but”. That fucker worships those moments where we convince ourselves that the bag of flesh in question isn’t quite as worthy, quite as human, quite as beloved as we are, and so, they’ve got to go.
That all-too familiar “but” is always accompanied by other words, too. In the case of Abel, the one who’s life was but a breath, we don’t know exactly what they were, only that his blood screamed them out to the Divine. In the case of Philando Castile, his blood was given voice for us all. We all heard it. We heard it in the voice of his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her daughter. We listened time and again to their testimony, their witness, their prayers, their agony:
Diamond Reynolds: Stay with me [inaudible yelling in background], We got pulled over for a busted tail light in the back and the police just, he … he’s, he’s covered…
Reynolds: He just got his arm shot off. We got pulled over on Larpenteur.
Officer: I told him not to reach for it! I told him to get his head up!
Reynolds: He had, you told him to get his ID, sir, his driver’s license. Oh my god please don’t tell me he’s dead.
Reynolds: Please don’t tell me my boyfriend just went like that.
Officer: Keep your hands where they are please.
Reynolds: Yes I will, sir. I will keep my hands where they are. Please don’t tell me this. Lord please Jesus don’t tell me that he’s gone. Please don’t tell me that he’s gone. Please officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him. You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir…
Officer: Get the female passenger out.
Other officer, off camera: Ma’am exit the car right now with your hands up. Let me see your hands. Exit now. Keep ’em up, keep ’em up!
Reynolds: Where’s my daughter? You got my daughter?”
Other officer: Face away from me and walk backwards. Walk backwards towards me. Keep walking. Keep walking. Keep walking. Get on your knees. Get on your knees. Ma’am you’re just being detained right now until we get this all sorted out OK?
[Daughter crying in background]
Reynolds: They threw my phone Facebook. Please don’t tell me, Lord Jesus please don’t tell me [inaudible].
Officer: Let me see your purse. You have any weapons or anything?
Reynolds: No. Please don’t tell me my boyfriend is gone. You can take it off my hand. Please don’t tell me he’s gone. Please Jesus no. Please no. Please no don’t let him be gone Lord.
Reynolds: He told him to get his license and registration. He told him he was licensed to carry and that he had his gun on him and then he started shooting. He started shooting for no reason.
Officer: [Yells, screams “fuck” multiple times.]
Reynolds: His wallet and license and registration, you told him to get it, sir [crying]. You told him and he tried to tell you he had a license to carry and was gonna take it off. Please don’t tell me my boyfriend’s gone. He don’t deserve this. Please. He’s a good man, he works for St. Paul Public school. He doesn’t have no records of anything. He’s never been in jail, anything. He’s not a gang member, anything.
Reynolds: [inaudible] and that you cover him Lord. That you allow him to still be here with us Lord. Still with me [inaudible] Lord. Please Lord wrap your arms around him. Please Lord make sure that he’s OK, that he’s breathing Lord. [inaudible] Please Lord you know our rights Lord, you know we are innocent people Lord. We are innocent people. We are innocent people. We are innocent. My four-year-old [inaudible]
Reynolds: Could you please get my phone for me?…
Reynolds: We’re in the back seat of the police car. [inaudible] Phil’s sister, call me, the police just shot my boyfriend for no apparent reason. My phone is about to die. They shot him. He shot him three times because we had a busted tail light. He asked him for license and registration, he told him that it was in his wallet but he had a pistol on him because he’s licensed to carry, and the officer told him ‘don’t move’ and as he was putting his hands back up the officer shot him in his arm about four, five times…
Child: I’m scared.
Reynolds: Don’t be scared. My daughter just witnessed this. The police just shot him for no apparent reason. No reason at all. They asked for license and registration. That’s the police officer over there that did it with the black on. I can’t really do shit because they have me handcuffed.
Child: It’s OK mommy.
Reynolds: I can’t believe they just did this I’m fucking, fucking…fuck! [screams].
Child: It’s OK, I’m right here with you.”
Many White people expressed their shock in the days after the shooting at the calm and deferential tones with which Ms. Reynolds and her daughter addressed the officers on the scene, but Black people weren’t surprised by shit. We know full and damn well that you might wail and scream and shout at God, but when you’re talking to White people, you keep your shit together. People who don’t die for it. People who don’t get their children shot while they watch, just to prove a point. It don’t matter who’s blood is pooled in their lap at the time, it don’t matter if they’re a Harvard grad or a hood rat, it don’t matter whether they’re four fucking years old-they know to stay calm, cool, and complaisant, or else.
But here’s your news flash for today-I’m done. I’m done speaking softly while y’all silently watch our boyfriends, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons slaughtered. I’m going to give voice to the cries of their blood. I know one’y’all will probably murder me for it, but I’m too damn mad to care anymore. Their blood will speak, and it will call your name.