The People’s Lament
One year ago, a Staten Island grand jury decided there was not enough evidence to pursue charges against New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to the death of Eric Garner. Garner’s death, caught on videotape, sparked nationwide protests as citizens seized on Garner’s last words—”I can’t breathe!”—as a poignant expression of the collective suffocation that racism and police brutality have provoked in this country.
The following is an adaption by Soong-Chan Rah of Lamentations 5, written to help express the grief that has rocked our nation for decades, but which has recently found a more communal and focused voice in the wake of Ferguson with the Black Lives Matter movement. May we use these words to corporately grieve our nation’s ongoing addiction to violence and to cry out for the way of Christ, the Prince of Peace.
1 Remember, Lord, what happened to Michael Brown and Eric Garner; look, and see the disgraceful way they treated their bodies.
2 Our inheritance of the image of God in every human being has been co-opted and denied by others.
3 The children of Eric Garner have become fatherless, widowed mothers grieve their dead children.
4 We must scrap for our basic human rights; our freedom and our liberty has a great price.
5 Corrupt officers and officials pursue us and are at our heels; we are weary and find no rest.
6 We submitted to uncaring government agencies and to big business to get enough bread.
7 Our ancestors sinned the great sin of instituting slavery; they are no more—but we bear their shame.
8 The system of slavery and institutionalized racism ruled over us, and there is no one to free us from their hands.
9 We get our bread at the risk of our lives because of the guns on the streets.
10 Michael Brown’s skin is hot as an oven as his body lay out in the blazing sun.
11 Women have been violated throughout our nation’s history; black women raped by white slave owners on the plantations.
12 Noble black men have been hung, lynched and gunned down; elders and spokesmen are shown no respect.
13 Young men can’t find work because of unjustly applied laws; boys stagger under the expectation that their lives are destined for jail.
14 The elder statesmen and civil rights leaders are gone from the city gate; young people who speak out their protest through music are silenced.
15 Trust in our ultimate triumph has diminished; our triumphant dance has turned to a funeral dirge.
16 Our sense of exceptionalism has been exposed. Woe to us, for we have sinned!
17 Because of this our hearts are faint, because of these things our eyes grow dim
18 for our cities lie desolate with predatory lenders and real estate speculators prowling over them.
19 You, Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.
20 Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long?
21 Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old
22 unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.
Soong-Chan Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL. He is the author of a number of books, the latest of which is Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times from which this adaptation of Lamentations 5 was taken. Copyright 2015 by Soong-Chan Rah. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, USA.