“Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Last night, hundreds of people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all cultures and all income brackets gathered along the waterfront in Astoria Park to reflect upon the immense losses of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and the countless others who had their precious lives cruelly stolen.
The choice of the gathering was extraordinary. On one side, the RFK Bridge, swathed in the light of the setting sun, its namesake struck down by an assassin’s bullet. On the other side, the Hell Gate Bridge spanning the East River Styx. And, shining in the light of hundreds of candles, remembrances of the slain, perfumed by incense, a shrine to the fallen of WW1. The inscription: “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
The crowd parted in front of this shrine, forming a circle for poets, activists, students (some as young as 15), parents, Covid survivors, teachers, and musicians to step in and speak from their hearts. After several days of nonstop social media feeds stuffed with violence and rage, these brave ambassadors of peace still rose up for their loved ones. They acknowledged they were risking their lives, but still faced down their greatest fears to do the right thing: to speak their mind by baring their souls to hundreds of strangers who held space for them.
There were dozens of impassioned speeches, eyes shining with tears, the mantra “I’m tired” escaping into the universe, as citizen after citizen called for commitment to mercy and justice. Every speaker implored the crowd that non-Blacks continue to fight for equality, speak up for them, and to actively counter tyranny and discrimination at all levels. A white woman read her text thread between her family aloud, and asked others to follow suit and have those difficult conversations. When it comes down to it, will you retreat into the safety of your homes, or lay down your life for your friends? Will you advocate, will you amplify, will you cry, will you march, will you love?
The motto of the New York Police Department, Fidelis ad mortem, is Latin for “faithful to death.” A sinister translation, to be sure, after witnessing the atrocious brutality exercised on demonstrators this week. There was no need for the dozens of NYPD clutching riot gear on the perimeters. This was a protest of the interests of the oppressors who are given priority over common decency, of equality, and of humanity. When corporations talk a good game for advertising, but refuse to pay their employees a fair wage or provide health insurance, expect resistance. Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect. Where have those qualities been, other than emblazoned on the car doors ramming into innocent bystanders? Or brutally mocking, harming and neglecting vulnerable homeless people in our city? It’s shameful, and it’s wrong.
These were American citizens, exercising their right to peacefully assemble and speak freely about the government, to look out for our fellow humans of all colors of the rainbow, all genders, all orientations, and all cultural backgrounds. The Astoria Park rally radiated nothing but tough love and solidarity. As one speaker eloquently put it, “we all bleed the same color.”
The United States is a beautiful melting pot of humanity and melanin, and when given the chance, has the potential for so much beauty and grace and evolution. Don’t forget what we are fighting for. Inevitably there will be commercials with melancholy piano music and meaningless platitudes about “coming together,” but that’s the same old nonsense. Business as usual. Coming together means standing up for what’s right and helping your fellow humans, not just when it’s trending as a TikTok challenge or a black square on Instagram. Every day. Every hour of every day. Support minority-run independent businesses. Support champions of justice and support education. Support those who wish to travel to learn more about life around the globe. Support minorities in the arts and humanities.
When the glass is swept and the next news cycle lashes out the next Two Minutes Hate, hold on to the light. Tightly, fiercely. Never, ever lose the light.
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