- Black Lives Matter?Africana Religious Responses to State Violence
In February 2012, the teenaged Trayvon Martin was killed with impunity in Florida while walking home from a neighborhood store. The acquittal of Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, sparked indignation and protests. Even more jolting was the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American pedestrian, in Ferguson, Missouri. Unlike Martin’s death, the slaying of Brown could not be dismissed as the behavior of a lone renegade. Rather, it was an act of the state, part of an intricate web of fatal policing practices that have repeatedly targeted Blacks. After a grand jury refused to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who fatally shot Brown, Wilson reiterated that he had no regrets about killing the young victim. That Brown’s killer could walk free underscores a historical pattern of the state killing unarmed Blacks that goes unpunished and is defended as an act of duty. Since that time, scores of police attacks against Blacks have been in the national spotlight, from the slayings of twenty-two-year-old Rekia Boyd in Chicago and Tanisha Anderson in Cleveland to that of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, who died after being beaten by police. The unabated scale and frequency with which state actors have killed innocent, unarmed Blacks has become painfully visible.
Although this pattern of state violence is not new, the visible and vigorous activism that has emerged to proclaim that Black lives matter is distinctive. As a [End Page 442] result of massive protests and demonstrations, a global awareness has emerged to reckon with the institutionalized disregard for Black life. In response to this historic development, the Journal of Africana Religions has invited critical reflections on the theme of “Black Lives Matter.” This roundtable discussion examines the connections that emerge among protests of state violence against Blacks. The historic and ongoing efforts to assert the human dignity of victims of the politics of death that cheapen and disregard Blacks respond to a range of concerns, including recent police killings, Islamophobia, slavery, and religion. Readers will find keen attention to the religious implications of the multiple contexts through which the critique of anti-Black violence has gained expression on a global scale. The discussions demonstrate the broad historical range of this problem, from the nineteenth-century plight of Blacks fleeing slavery and state violence to the young Nigerian women recently kidnapped by Boko Haram. The authors examine political theology of the state, ecclesiastical responses to anti-Black violence, and connections to Black Power and the legacy of the civil rights movement. These reflective essays offer important insights that shed light on the subject and point to the architecture of activisms, ideologies, and structures of social power that are located at the intersection of religion and state violence. The connections that emerge across these astute reflections can enable scholars in multiple disciplines to appreciate the critical ties between formations of Africana religions and the continuing of life, death, racial formation, and human suffering at the hands of the state.
Sylvester A. Johnson and Edward E. Curtis IV