By Michelle Carroll
Wednesday started strangely.
Before I even got to my church office, our Senior Pastor was calling to tell me that we’d just learned the Attorney General’s announcement of the Breonna Taylor investigation results had been moved from Louisville to the Kentucky Historical Society, which is about two blocks from the church. “Oh, and by the way, the church on the next block decided to close their daycare early out of concern for the potential for riots, so you need to decide if there’s cause for the charitable clinic which meets in our building to cancel for tonight.” And I was still in my pajamas on my couch.
Somehow, I never thought that would be a dilemma I’d need to consider in the first six months of my new call. Fortunately, connections to any department you could ever need in state and local government run deep in a church situated in the state capitol. The assurances that there was no intel of violent protest groups being in Frankfort did hold true. In fact, the major issue of the night was a family group of four adult patients, only one of whom spoke English. Having a fabulous Spanish translation volunteer is only helpful if their native language is Spanish, and it wasn’t.
While I sat on my couch that morning, so many things went through my mind. Wondering if there was any possibility of the investigation returning convictions for the three officers involved. Thinking of Breonna’s family as they awaited the findings. Knowing how much disappointment there would likely be among the black community in particular. None of those were things I could do anything about at this point. So I turned to the people I was directly responsible for, the things I needed to make decisions about.
Weighing considerations of the unknown possibilities, need for physical safety and healthcare necessity. Thinking how bad things could be for patients that are usually some combination of elderly, non-English speaking, transportation deficient, racial minorities, or immigrants (potentially undocumented) if there was a violent outbreak as protests went into the night. Considering how, even if we needed it, police protection might make our patients scared to come, particularly for black and brown patients. Ultimately I had to just trust in the recommendations from local law enforcement contacts that Frankfort would be peaceful. Everyone except the Attorney General would be in Louisville.
At 1:00pm I walked over to the Historical Center. History was being made two blocks away, how could I sit in my office and ignore it?
My heart longed for the conversations you strike up when you’re gathered in support of a common goal, to speak of the justice we hoped to see done today. But coronavirus is a beast that never stops stealing and social distancing won over engaging. So I sat on a curb in a parking lot with about forty other people milling about. Some crowded together, others spaced out. The police presence there was polite, only requesting we stay out of the street as the road was not closed. Together we all waited. Thankful for weather that wasn’t quite fall yet, but held the promise of the yearly changing seasons.
Then we all realized the announcement was taking place indoors, and so despite being right there, we’d all have to find a live news stream on our phones in order to hear it. That’s when the strangeness of the situation really sunk in.
There would be no microphones or podiums for someone to appear at, no rally, no chants, no lament through song, no march through the streets. At least not in Frankfort that day. Instead we were a small group of people from all different walks of life gathered to bear witness to whatever would be announced. Compelled to be as close as we could to the room where it was happening. Drawn there by our proximity and longing for justice.
I watched strangers join in something that was at once so solitary and so communal. We were so different and yet alike. The group of young black people with their BLM shirts, the old white progressives who’ve been holding signs on street corners since Vietnam, the reporters and cameramen sent to cover the event, a few clergy people, the black elders who’ve seen so much already, the white teenagers with skateboards and colorful hair, and one little baby who toddled around the parking lot full of joy and laughter.
Eventually an older black woman sat down near me, she never did give her name. But we chatted about our disappointment, our hope for tomorrow. Words weren’t needed much in those moments as we processed, but being present seemed to hold us together in a way we all needed.
Wednesday afternoon reminded me how important our presence can be. How necessary our rituals are for the process of seeking justice. How sometimes words must be shouted, and other times there simply are none. I felt deep down in my bones how we all require community, and need a diverse body of neighbors and allies who stand alongside of whoever is hurting most that day.
May our churches be that community. May our local and state networks be that community. May the whole of Christianity be that community. May all the people of the world be that community. Breonna, we will remember your name and your life as we continually strive to make black lives matter.
Michelle Carroll serves as the Associate Pastor for Missions at First Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky.