Six years ago this week I made a drive I will never forget from Missouri to Ohio. It was mostly memorable because of my beginning and end points. I was driving from Ferguson, MO; where I had been organizing for a few weeks in response to the murder of Mike Brown by the hands of then Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. I was driving to Beavercreek, OH; to lend my support to friends and colleagues who had been organizing in response to the killing of John Crawford, III by Beavercreek police officer Sean Williams in response to a 911 call by Ronald Ritchie.
For weeks I had been completely immersed in these struggles. I spent my days in strategy meetings, having conversations with activists, clergy, and the occasional politician. At night I joined the protest movement in the streets, almost always carrying a gas mask in case we were tear gassed by the police, which happened more often than not. I spent on average 20 hours a day like this, eating little, sleeping less, completely immersed in one righteous rebellion and trying to help encourage another one.
That road trip was the first time in a long time I had stopped long enough to pay attention to the outside world. There had been little need to before hand. CNN and MSNBC had set up camp near the site of our nightly protest. It seemed to me that our movement was the news. As I started to make the drive I reflexively opened my podcast app and starting listening to Pardon the Interruption and Around the Horn, two sports podcasts on ESPN that I would normally listen to daily. As I started listening I expected something different. I expected that these shows would talk about Mike Brown and John Crawford, and the other people who had been killed by police. Even if they didn’t cover the nightly actions in Ferguson, I expected them to talk about how athletes were responding: NFL players were coming out of the tunnel with their hands up (this was two years before Colin Kaepernick would first take a knee). I expected that players would talk about this in their post-game interviews, forcing sports reporters to shed light on what was happening.
None of this happened. It seemed as if no one was paying attention. I was furious.
It took me almost a year before I could watch sports again, let alone listen to sports commentary, and for so long when I have done so, there has been a knot in my stomach, a dull ache that caused by the fear that my participation as a spectator was contributing to a culture that was far too comfortable with the killing of Black people with no accountability.
That road trip was six years ago, and at the time of my writing this it has been less than 24 hours since the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court, forfeiting a playoff game in the name of Jacob Blake. Since then the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds did not play their game, Naomi Osaka withdrew from the Western and Southern Open happening in Cincinnati, and one of Ohio’s basketball royalty, LeBron James, fought for players to boycott the rest of the NBA season. Also, and not for the first time, Pardon the Interruption and Around the Horn used time to talk about the need to stop the killing of Black people by police.
We’ve come full circle. There are very few places to hide, now. The calls for social change are reaching every aspect of our lives, and the rejection of those calls are getting louder and sharper every day. What was once imagined as a middle ground, the place of plausible deniability, is quickly disappearing, and so I ask you:
Are you paying attention now?
Noted preacher, community organizer, public theologian and activist, Rev. Nelson Jerome Pierce, Jr. was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio as the son of two preachers and small business owners, who opened their heart and their home to the community around them. Rev. Pierce earned an BA from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Masters of Divinity (MDiv) from Eden Theological Seminary. Rev. Pierce is currently the senior pastor of Beloved Community Church in Cincinnati, OH (currently accessible to all via Zoom). He is also the Director of Faith and Race Programming and Baptist Chaplain at Xavier University. Read more Ohio Capital Journal stories here.