Church’s Thursday tribute to 30 lives lost to guns
In a tribute to the 30 lives claimed by Bermuda's gun violence since 2003, one church is taking a stand to show that “sons killing our sons” cannot be accepted.
As a stark display of the toll inflicted, volunteers tomorrow will lie outside City Hall, as if shot dead, while a name is read each minute from the list of the dead.
The event, labelled the “30/30 Thursday”, is being held by Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Pastor Jahkimmo Franklyn Smith said he had been inspired by the ‘Black Lives Matter' campaigns sweeping the US, and wanted to lead a local initiative.
“We refuse to accept as a norm the devaluing of our lives by those who do not value their own lives,” Pastor Smith told The Royal Gazette.
“To those who are involved in the violence, you are not our enemies — you are our sons.”
Volunteers will gather at 11.45am tomorrow, Thursday before City Hall, with 30 minutes of solidarity with all those affected, to commence at noon.
Pastor Smith said the event, with prostrate figures posed in a “die-in”, sent a sharp message but added that it had been enthusiastically received by his congregation.
He said “30/30 Thursday” was not being held in judgment but “to show our sons that their lives matter”.
“I am part of the AME church that is out of Philadelphia — our denomination has been at the forefront of that fight, challenging the justice system to take another look at police conduct,” Pastor Smith said.
“AME churches across the Island this past Sunday showed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement by wearing black.”
It came one week after the latest round of gang-fuelled firearms violence ended with the murder of 29-year-old Prince Edness.
Pastor Smith said that while “we understand, and stand with what our brothers and sisters are trying to accomplish overseas, I recognised that we have our own issues here”.
“It's not police violence. It's a serious, sickening issue within our community. We're killing each other,” he said. “This past Sunday, I used that solidarity as a segue to deal with these issues in our own back yard.
“Coming out from that service, the response from the congregation was so powerful, so palpable, we decided we should take the opportunity to speak to a wider audience — to say that our lives matter and our sons matter.
“We adopted that mantra, not in terms of exclusivity or denouncing the non-black community, but because it seems that, increasingly, we are devaluing ourselves.”
Pastor Smith admitted he had wondered how churchgoers might take to the concept of members mimicking the dead. He said the intention had been for “the imagery to be jarring”.
“It was overwhelmingly supported,” he added. “My heart was moved when seniors came to say, ‘Reverend, we are willing to lay down for this'.”
Initially, Mount Zion had debated staging the event on Court Street, but on police advice they opted for the “neutral ground” of City Hall.
Church members and volunteers will gather there tomorrow from 11.45am, and starting at 12pm, as participants lay themselves on the ground, the grim list of 30 names will be read out.
“It's a lot of names. A lot of fathers, a lot of sons, a lot of brothers and a lot of families that have been impacted. I just wish that those that did the killing — to them, perhaps, their own lives did not matter; I wish they knew that they did.
“Perhaps, if they did, they would not have gone down that road.”
In spite of everything, Pastor Smith said he was optimistic at heart.
“I believe the overwhelming number of our sons are doing positive things,” he said.
“But there is a substantial segment of our society, almost a subculture, that have become so cynical, living with hopelessness, frustration and fear of their own creation, that at some level they don't believe that they matter.”
Following the event, Pastor Smith said, “we're not sure how things will unfold” — but he added: “But we have to start.”
The BlackLivesMatter movement in the United States began in 2012 after the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
The Florida teenager was shot dead by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer who was subsequently acquitted.
That acquittal sparked outrage across the US. The movement sprang up as a resistance call to spread awareness of faults in the US justice system, as well as to fight racism.
‘Black Lives Matter’ quickly evolved into a broad humanist movement, especially for marginalised groups, but it kept its emphasis on black liberation and maintaining pressure on the US police force.
As its hashtag attests, the movement thrives on social media, Twitter in particular. It has gained impetus as other cases suggestive of systemic police brutality have come forward.
The most recent example occurred in Ferguson, Missouri after the fatal shooting in August of 18-year-old Michael Brown was followed by the non-indictment of the white police officer, Darren Wilson, who had opened fire on him under disputed circumstances.