Prayer Without Works:
Your Prayers Are Not Stopping
By Shereá Denise
On May 28, 2020, I woke up to news of a tweet from the legendary writer, rapper, and actor extraordinaire, Ice Cube. The tweet said: “I apologize to everyone expecting to see me on Good Morning America today, but after the events in Minnesota with George Floyd, I’m in no mood to tell Ameria, good morning.” Of course there were people who responded saying that Ice Cube should have still gone on the show and used that platform to raise awareness about what is happening in Minnesota in response to the tragic murder of George Floyd by law enforcement. Ice Cube’s response was simple:
“I’m done talking. These people know right from wrong and they obviously don’t care. So what we talking about?”
While some of you may only remember Ice Cube as the playful actor that has graced the big screen more times than I can count, I have not forgotten that Ice Cube’s original claim to fame was as a member of N.W.A. aka “The World’s Most Dangerous Rap Group.” N.W.A. was targeted nationwide by the federal government and law enforcement for their outspoken lyrics and direct statements about police brutality. It makes perfect sense that Ice Cube would make these statements and - honestly - I cannot say that I disagree with his tweets nor his decision.
In reading summaries from other countries about race relations in America, I was semi-surprised that people with no connection to the United States of America seemed to fully grasp (1) why Black people were outraged enough to protest, set things on fire, and loot from stores throughout Minnesota and (2) how prevalent police brutality and systemic racism are in these united states. My sense of surprise came from the fact that so many White people in America seem to refuse (at this point it honestly has to be a refusal) to understand what on earth Black people are so upset about. Yet there are people who have not stepped foot on this soil who know - without a shadow of a doubt - that Black people are systematically oppressed and continually brutalized by the systems that racism has created.
I see so many posts calling on Black people to pray for Minnesota and, while I fully grasp and understand the power of prayer, this nation needs more than prayer right now. Besides, did the Book of James not teach us that prayer without works is dead?
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
James 2:14 - 17 (NIV)
How can we continue to tell Black and Brown people to be careful and stay safe when the people who are charged with protecting and serving this nation’s residents cannot see us as anything more than animals to be feared and bodies to be victimized?
I would like to see us demanding action from those with the power and authority to make changes or - at a minimum - not discouraging and silencing those who are making such demands. Let us not be so concerned with the appearance of being respectable Christians that we forget to do our due diligence. We cannot continue to ONLY pray while our people are being massacred. We cannot continue to ONLY pray when people are being falsely charged and wrongfully convicted in response to their willingness to speak out about issues like systemic racism and police brutality.
In addition to talking about prayer, there seems to be a lot of references to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and what our ancestors would have done. This immediately brings three thoughts to my mind:
MLK was not Santa Claus. The first time I heard someone say this, I thought it was asinine, but - seriously - people have decided that MLK’s strategic actions were not revolutionary. They were.
If our ancestors were as peaceful as everyone thinks they were, most of us would not be here. It took a different form of fighting and praying for our ancestors to ensure that we would be here in 2020. I do not know about your ancestors, but many of my ancestors were not the type to start a fight… but they would certainly finish it.
I am tired of us not taking accountability or responsibility for the hard things. Having a belief system, being spiritual, and/or practicing a particular religion is important. I will not deny that. But this assumption that we can sit on our couches passing silent judgement on Black and Brown people who are setting things on fire while uttering “we need to pray” is beyond irresponsible.
Police brutality is murder or - at the least - manslaughter. Both murder and manslaughter are crimes punishable by imprisonment. In light of video evidence, how are we only discussing the possibility of a third degree murder charge? How is there a conversation about whether or not there should be charges filed against the other officers involved? About whether people should keep their jobs? About what the victim did 3+ years ago that somehow should lead society to believe that that warranted their death on this particular day at the hands of the police?
Let me back up. In the event that you have been avoiding the news and social media, let me bring you up to speed about the latest known victim of police brutality: George Floyd. On Monday, May 25, 2020, George Floyd died after a police officer kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for several minutes while Floyd cried out that he could not breathe. George Floyd was handcuffed, on the ground, and not perceived to be a threat while this incident occurred. Officers were responding to a call that Mr. Floyd had used counterfeit bills in a store, a call that surely should not have led to the loss of anyone’s life. All four officers involved were subsequently fired, but only one officer has been charged thus far. (Read more here.)
On Thursday night, a Minneapolis police station was set on fire by protesters. Protests began to spread across the country overnight Friday and continued on Friday night. (Read more about the protests here.)
Then y’all’s President (because we all know he ain’t mine) gets on Twitter saying, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Sigh.
The things that occur in the aftermath of these deaths are downright predictable at this point. The manner in which people are being murdered may change, but the attempts to justify fear and the unnecessary idea that Black and Brown people are some type of super human species that require unreasonable force and dozens of bullets is just… ridiculous. It is even more ridiculous because we have heard it so many times that we can practically write the press releases and articulate the responses to every question during every press conference in every state throughout the country. We can even predict the qualifiers that will be used in each headline. Black people have to be described as “unarmed” while armed White people who are taken safely into police custody after slaughtering many are described as “mentally ill.”
The responses to our reactions are also predictable. So many people in White America are asking how rioting and looting brings justice. Shout out to all of the people who brought up Black Wall Street on Twitter to remind White America just who taught us all that violent action is a means to an end. Also, a special shout out to Ayesha (aka @ayeemalik99), who responded on Twitter with: “IDK, but they tried peacefully kneeling and yall had a problem with that too.” And, of course, I am sending my heartfelt gratitude to the original kneeler, Colin Kaepernick, who said:
“When civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction. The cries for peace will rain down, and when they do, they will land on deaf ears, because your violence has brought this resistance. We have the right to fight back!”
I am beyond tired. I am beyond exhausted. I do not know if I am desensitized or if I have just run out of words to say and feelings to have about the state sanctioned lynching of Black people. I do not want to ask what would have happened if there was no video… because I know. I do not want to ask how four officers with over a dozen complaints against them were still permitted to patrol the streets… because I know. I do not want to ask why Americans can be more upset about people looting from Target than about a Black man’s life being casually taken for no apparent reason… because I know. I do not want to ask how Black male officers can be so violent towards protesters that look like them… because I know.
I have said it before. Unfortunately, I know I will say it again. Prayer is important, but so is action. I pray for those that we have lost and for those who are fighting to change the system that continues to harm so many. My style of fighting may look different from theirs, but it still involves action. I am not lighting anything on fire, but I am not handing out fire extinguishers either.
“To look around the United States today is enough to make prophets and angels weep.
This is not the land of the free; it is only very unwillingly and sporadically the home of the brave.”
-James Baldwin, 1978