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Healing the Breach: Remarks Honoring the Life of Alton Sterling

Thou hast made the earth to tremble; thou hast broken it: heal the breaches thereof; for it shaketh.

(Psalm 60:2 KJV)

I want to begin by thanking the family of Alton Sterling for inviting me today. His aunt, Sandra Sterling, his siblings, and his 5 children:

Cameron, 15

Na’Queincy, 10

Alton, Jr., 5

Josiah, 2

and Journee, 2

There were three sites of crucifixion, last week, where pain abounded but hope must abound even more.

Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas are etched deep into our consciousness.

After painful crucifixions we must now live in the resurrection with new hope and possibilities.

But as painful as the crucifixions were the resurrection must be transformative.

The best can be ahead of us. This is a transformative moment.

We must choose reconciliation over retaliation and revenge. The spirit of resurrection belongs to all of us. We must live in that spirit.

Let’s heal the breach our families have been torn.

Our body politics have been frayed and breached.

Just as perfect love casts out fear, perfect fear brings in hate.

Hate leads to violence.

We must heal that breach.

Remove the stitches.

Remove the germs.

And while we all want healing. We must get the glass out the wound.

We cannot merely have conversations about the wound.

We must invest in the emergency room to heal the brokenness and to even the life options of all of God’s children.

It will cost to heal the wounds, but we cannot coexist with gangrene in the wound with a scab over it.

Bodies are crippled and hearts are broken. Jesus said I have come to heal the broken hearted.

Those who follow him should choose love to cast out fear and not succumb to fear and hate over love.

Our strongest weapon is not guns and violence, but it is the rightness of our cause. Unearned suffering is redemptive.

There is power in innocent blood. If the killing of Alton Sterling had been in a shootout or a drug bust or robbery, we would not be here.

We must not cede the moral high ground for violence.

We must heal the breach.

Dr. King’s mission statement for SCLC was “Redeem the Soul of America.” Somewhere in this thing, suffering breed character, character breeds faith, and faith will prevail.

We want more states to meet mental health challenges. We need more mental health centers.

Easy access to weapons for which there is no defense.

Open carry weapons is too dangerous and must be rejected.

We must choose bridges over walls. Walls divide. When there are walls, behind the wall there is ignorance, fear, hatred and violence.

We need bridges of openness and hope. Behind the walls some live in shadows, some live in sunshine. Let’s share God’s sunshine.

Alton lived in the shadows. He was a suspect. Today he is a hero. We often love martyrs more that marchers.

Just as often we love soldiers who go to war than we love veterans who come home injured, physically and emotionally.

Behind the walls are adults who need jobs and job training.

Students who need affordable education and scholarships.

Behind the walls are public housing closed private housing foreclosed.

Behind the walls life options crippled by poverty a weapon of mass destruction

As we get more and more, fewer and fewer, making them richer. Jesus said character is measured not by what we consumed but by what we share.

By how we treat the poor, hungry, ill clothed, ill housed and the imprisoned is the measure of our character.

When the President spoke in Dallas, he attempted to lift us from racial battleground to moral higher ground.

We must pursue the high standard he set. What affects one of us directly, affects the rest of us indirectly.

If your neighbor’s house is on fire for all the wrong reasons, seek no comfort in your righteousness, the wind is blowing, none of us are safe.

None of us are secure until all of us are. In the dark we all look amazingly similar.

We don’t merely need conversation. We need correction and justice and shared development.

Whether Mel Blount, Sidney Williams from Southern going to the pros or Willie Davis and Doug Williams going from Grambling to the pros. How did they make it? They made it because…

As long as the playing field is even; 50 by 100. And the rules are public and the goals are clear and the referees are fair and if close there is a review and the score is transparent. We can make it and be on the starting team together.

Those standards must apply to every facet of the university. Faculty and staff. Jobs and contracts. And set the standards for the unity beyond the playing field.

We were built on a moral fault of race and gender supremacy. Unless the Lord builds as house we labor in vain.

On this awkward moral fault, we have survived apart now we must do a more different thing: learn to live together.

Racism and arrogance of power is foreign to God’s purpose. The question was asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus answered in a parable. A man walking down the street was robbed and beaten nearly to death; innocent no fault of his own. This is just the beginning of the parable.

The question is how do you respond to the beaten man? How do you respond to Alton Sterling?

The beaten man is not the hero. He was the victim. A man of his own religious order crossed over on the other side of the street. A man of his own ethnic kin come by and crossed over on the other side.

A man from a different country, a different culture, and a different religion come by.

A man who worshipped God differently helped him up. Jesus asks who is your neighbor.

It was a Samaritan who cared and took the risk beyond color, cultured, creed, and danger. We, too, must care.

Because racism has skewed our vision of media, our perception of politics and culture.

Our vision has been distorted and skewed by race. For example, blacks kill white jail time and crack down time.

For example, whites kill whites…rebellion time.

Blacks kill blacks or whites kill whites… shrug shoulders time.

We must take issues of killing to ethical level, not just the ethnic level.

No one has the right to kill anyone. Today, the nation’s soul is at risk.

If ISIS kills us or Al-Qaeda we say it is a matter of national security.

If we kill each other we say it’s at risk.

About 34,000 Americans die a year from gun shots to themselves or each other. We must go another way.

We can’t give up on God.

We must extinguish the idea that killing is a solution.

We must extinguish the idea that killing is the solution to unresolved conflict.

The young man who did the dastardly act in Dallas did not come out of the spirit of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

He came out of military. He served two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

His ambitions were to be a soldier.

He volunteered, trained, used military tactics, and learned how to make bombs.

Apparently in post traumatic syndrome explosion he couldn’t identify himself or his neighbor.

We don’t like what we see, but the man you see in the camera is the man in the mirror and it is us.

The blood flowing in our streets is so devastating it makes strong men and women weep. It mobilizes a nation.

Three acts of violence did what 10,000 sermons in church could not do: make us look at the mirror en mass and we don’t like what we see.

On our strongest moment we ask God for forgiveness with a contrite heart and we seek redemption.

On our weakest moment, which we think is the strongest, we ask for weapons, more powerful, more clips.

In that scenario we are trapped in fear without love. Police, are afraid. Adults and children are afraid.

Our politics must not be driven by fear, hatred and retaliation.

Instead, they must be driven by love and hope. Love is the strongest weapon; try it.

God speaks to us today from the grave. That’s just like God.

I asked Rosa Parks one day, “Why didn’t you go to the back of the bus? You knew you could have been arrested, beaten and hurt.”

She said, “That was December 1st. Emmett Till was killed on August 28. I thought about Emmett Till and couldn’t go back.”

Dr. King emerged out of that struggle. God was speaking from the grave.

Medgar Evers was killed in June 1963. His blood fueled the 1963 march and set the moral tone.

Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. The blood on that balcony lifted the downtrodden to the White House 40 years later.

Alton Sterling proves the power of innocence and the weakness and limits of violence.

Sterling, Castile and the Dallas police spoke from the grave in such tones that the President, Congress and the whole world had to stop and reassess.

We unleashed a power over ourselves. That shield, gun and badge cannot stop how you heal the breach and remove the glass.

Too many guns- beat swords into plow shares.

Too much fear- perfect love casts out fear.

Too much hate love is more powerful.

Too much arrogance such precedes that fall of a nation.

So, dear God, today with contrite hearts we say thank you for Alton Sterling.

And using your miraculous power to show us the way, your formula, well chronicled, is the key to the kingdom.

If my people who are called by my name will humble, themselves and pray.

Seek my face and turn from their wicked ways.

Then, I will hear from heaven, forgive their sins and heal their land.

More articles by:

Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow/PUSH.

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