I’m Reverend Eddie Anderson, the pastor of McCarty Memorial Christian Church in South Los Angeles and a member of Black Lives Matter, Clergy for Black Lives, L.A. Voice and a co-chair of the California Poor People’s Campaign. But the most important description that I have is a Black man.
At the end of May, we saw George Floyd being lynched. Lynched in broad daylight by Derek Chauvin and other officers who stood by and watched. And we knew that the house was on fire. Dr. King said in 1968 that he feared that he integrated his people into a burning house, and the house is on fire.
The house was on fire when Breonna Taylor was sleeping in her bed and was shot eight times. The house was on fire when Ahmaud Arbery was running in the streets of my beloved sweet Georgia, and was lynched and massacred by White extremists and terrorists who believed what their ancestors believed, and what so many people believe, that Black people are less because our skin is darker.
The house is on fire. The house was on fire in 1492 when White colonizers came to this country proclaiming freedom, but enslaving and killing the natives. The house was on fire in 1619 when my ancestors were pulled from the lands of Africa and forced to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land. The house is on fire and it is burning down, and it should burn down. The question is not “How do we save this house, this American project called America?” The question is, what will rise from the ashes?
For generations and decades and centuries, Black people in this country have been saying the house is on fire. Because as Frederick Douglass said in 1852, “What, to a Negro, a Black person, is the fourth of July?” because we are not free. We’re just free-ish. So, what you’re seeing across this nation is people proclaiming the house is on fire, and it needs to burn down.
For too long, for 400 years, we’ve been proclaiming that the house is on fire, and America has been tone-deaf, the world has been tone-deaf. George Floyd said the same last words that we believe Jesus said on the cross as a Christian, “I can’t breathe,” and “Mama.” And we are marching in the streets, not just because of Black death, but for Black futures. And we are saying that we hope and we are praying that America will breathe again, for America has never really been a place of freedom for us.
America has never been a place where we can see thriving because every single time that Black people rise up, White backlash comes back harder and worse. Harriet Tubman believed that we could be free, so she ran through the fields for our Black future. She ran. And Frederick Douglass preached, Ida B. Wells and Sojourner Truth travelled around so that we could be free, but America was tone-deaf.
America said, “You don’t deserve to breathe,” and so we had to remind the people in that time that the house is on fire. We saw a reconstruction in this country, and we proclaim that this will be a new day for Black people, but it was not. We saw that Black people were elected in the highest numbers, and that we were able to fill Houses of Assembly across this nation. We saw school and healthcare become a right and not just a possibility for everyone in this nation because we understood that Black lives matter.
But, then came the Ku Klux Klan, then came Black codes, then came Jim Crow, and the house was on fire. My question to you today is: Will you be silent this time? Will you be silent when they tell us that we don’t need to defund the police because police make us safe when Black people have been saying for decades and centuries that police are still a part of the slave-catching system in which they came from.
Will you believe Black people or will you be silent? For we are tired of living in a police state. All across this country, all across this world, Black people are in the street saying, “Defund the police,” ’cause we are tired of living in a police state. And all COVID-19 has shown us is the wounds that we’ve already known were there, that you’ve defunded healthcare, you’ve defunded our schools, you defunded the housing market. The whole system has been defunded for Black people because we have yet to matter in this country. And the question is: Will you be silent or will you listen to Black people this time around? Will you listen to women like Patrisse Cullors? Will you listen to women like Melina Abdullah? Will you listen to women like Opal or Tamika Mallory who say to you that we can’t breathe, but this time we want it to be different.
This time, we believe we can defund the police and re-imagine public safety into a system that has an economy of care, into a system that says that you matter not just with words, but with investment, a system that says we don’t need police coming to homeless people because we have the highest homeless population in Los Angeles, and majority of that is Black people, although we are 8% of the population in Los Angeles County.
We need mental health workers to come and check on our people. We need violent intervention workers where we’ve seen time and time again in South Los Angeles, all of the gang violence that we’ve seen interrupted is by done by the Nation of Islam and violent intervention workers, not by the police. Will you believe Black people this time? Will we still continue to be free-ish or will we continually become free in this third reconstruction?
The question is: Will you listen? Will you march? Will you use your privilege? Will you use the resources that you have to say Black lives matter, not just in word, but in deed. Ella Baker said, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it’s won.”
Black people have always fought for their freedom. I’m encouraged by the folks who are coming to the streets now but I wonder, will you be here a month from now? Will you still say “Prosecute killer cops”? Will you still say “Defund the police,” when no one is listening? Will you say with us, “The house is on fire; it should burn down”? And maybe this time, we can birth an America where liberty and justice really means for all, and not just for a few. Will you believe us this time?
The Rev. Edward L. Anderson, M.A., M. Div., shared this message about Black Lives Matter with actress Mayim Bialik, who posted it on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?v=smmcUQz08yQ. To date, the video has been viewed more than 10,000 times.