Rome crucified Jesus, America shot Breonna Taylor

Pleasant Dinner Talk

I slumped in my chair at the dinner table as my mom asked where I had been the night before. In a state that has responded forcefully to the COVID-19 pandemic, there weren’t too many places to be on a Wednesday night.

My mom quipped, “out partying?”

I responded, “actually, protesting.”

She followed up, “Protesting what?”

“The murder of Breonna Taylor.”

My mother is not forceful in the way I am and certainly not the one to leap into debate, but is nevertheless firm on her opinions.

“Was that the girl who was shot in her bed?”

“Yes.”

My mother retorted, “I heard she wasn’t in bed…I heard her boyfriend used her for a shield.”

A lively conversation followed, which illuminated popular viewpoints. My mother recited facts that suggested Breonna Taylor’s death was a sad occurrence, but completely excusable given the circumstances.

I asked if she’d be as quick to justify my death were I murdered by police, if she’d rationalize my death as the result of my actions —even if they were violent. Like any mother, that questioning roused the sleeping bear. Almost instinctively, she said it wouldn’t matter where I was or what I did, if that were to happen to me, she’d be angry…she’d be mourning.

Mourning Is the Missing Piece

America has forgotten how to mourn. Mourning is a paradoxical act, both a deeply communal and deeply personal messy affair. It requires introspection, grief, and communal reconciliation. It saturates life and suffocates — it never allows you to forget. It fundamentally changes the world and tints the lens you see through.

Despite this, the tragedy of death plays out like all spectacles in American popular culture: there is immediate groundswell as we race to be first. The first to know, first to react, and the first to post. After this groundswell, the tragedy fades from public consciousness —with the same intensity and abruptness of a shooting star.

We do not mourn anymore, we react.

The decision to abandon mourning happens at the subconscious level and reveals a damaged national psyche. A country with violence so thoroughly spread throughout its history has become unable to identify and cope with tragedy.

So we shield ourselves from it.

The denial fabricates a new reality. One where we are insulated from the pain of loss and the uncertainty it causes. The new fabricated reality offers peace for those who buy into it, but bewilders those who choose to mourn. This division helps explain the disconnect occurring when we talk to one another about tragedy. Some will see it as such, while others are disconnected from the mourning and instead focus on hyper-rationalizing the incident.

Without the ability to mourn, we are left only with justifying tragedy.

We compartmentalize the incident so that it does not seep into our spirit. In denying our mourning, we deny our humanity and the humanity of those we fail to grieve.

True to form, America does not mourn Breonna Taylor. We do not mourn her as a daughter, sister, or even an innocent human. Instead, we redirect our energies towards reacting and rationalizing her death so that we can quickly move on. We are insulated from the disorienting experience of grief. We are cushioned from the change it could inspire.

In the aftermath of the conversation with my mother, I pondered what would happen if we began to mourn before we reacted. For this lesson, I am drawn to another victim of state violence: Christ.

Rome Did Not Mourn Jesus

The murders of Breonna Taylor and Christ intersect in many ways: both were the targets of night raids, neither had violent histories yet were forcefully confronted, and both had companions who reacted defensively. Ultimately, both were legally murdered by the state.

For Rome and her sympathizers, the flogging and public murder of Jesus was not a tragedy —it was justified violence. There were no victims, only those who got what they deserved.

For here was a human-man who claimed Deity, broke their sacred laws, ignored cultural taboos, and equated himself with Caesar by assuming the title: Lord — not to mention his followers violently maimed a Roman officer on the night of the arrest.

It is for these reasons Jesus was ‘rightly’ arrested, beaten, and executed. To Rome, the murder was justified, explained away, and rationalized —everything but mourned. There was no tragedy, just a series of logical events.

Sadly, I suspect many present-day Christians would have been apologists for Rome.

If the scene of Jesus’ arrest were to occur in 2020, I can imagine the posts coming from the Church:

  • Roman officers HAD a warrant, WHY did Peter have a sword on him and use it? I’m telling you: Jesus is NOT peaceful.
  • I’m sure if Jesus would have cooperated, he wouldn’t have been hung on the cross #yougetwhatyoudeserve
  • Look, if you hang around CRIMINALS, THIEVES, AND ARMED MEN, YOU WILL BE ARRESTED AND CHARGED.
  • Is Jesus dying on the cross a tragedy? Yes, but IT WAS LEGAL. So stop BLAMING the roman officers WHO WERE JUST DOING THEIR JOB.

But this is not the better way of Christ, and it was not the response we saw from those closest to Jesus.

Christ’s friends and companions mourned his arrest, torture,and murder. They did not blame him or justify the Roman response. They did not point to Jesus’ divisiveness or claim he could have saved himself if he only complied with earlier warnings. His friends and followers did not blame Peter, whom Jesus loved, for brandishing the sword first. Fingers were not pointed and sides were not taken.

The response of the believers was to mourn —without justification, without victim-blaming, and without rationalizing state violence. They simply mourned.

The early disciples and believers offered us a third way: the way of mourning first.

I Mourn Breonna Taylor

America busted down Breonna’s door, Rome hung Jesus on the cross. Everyone was simply ‘doing their job.’ It reminds us that tragedy can be legal, but this alone does not make it right or moral.

I refuse to surrender my morality to legal justification.

I mourn Breonna like I mourn Jesus, and refuse to accept state violence as normal. I refuse the laws that allow a woman to be killed in her own home and call it justified.

I will mourn the taking of sacred life. I will mourn the loss of a beautiful sister who was made in God’s image. I will mourn the dreams, goals, and ideas that were forthcoming from her divinity. I will do all these things before I ever justify or try to explain why the state took her from us.

To do so is human.

To do so is Christian.

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Kevin Anthony Velez

Musings, ramblings, and anecdotes. Processing the journey of decolonizing my faith.