My heart is broken. My spirit is heavy – burdened by the violence and injustice we inflict upon one another.
In the midst of all the nationwide protesting that is shining a much-needed spotlight on racial hatred, among the shouts of “Black lives matter” and slogans stating, “Silence is complicity” something else caught my attention.
It’s something that is mostly ignored in the media reports on the protests. But it’s a question that demands an answer – because silence is complicity, right?
First some historical context. That phrase, silence is complicity is actually a paraphrase of a quote by Leonard Peltier, an American indigenous rights activist and a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. Peltier was convicted of first-degree murder in 1977 on charges of shooting two FBI agents to death on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation on June 26, 1975. Peltier was sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment. The conviction has been appealed but upheld. Notably, on January 18, 2017, two days before President Obama left office, the Office of the Pardon Attorney announced that Obama had denied Peltier's application for clemency.
Here is the complete Peltier quote from the book In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen:
“Silence, they say, is the voice of complicity. But silence is impossible. Silence screams. Silence is a message, just as doing nothing is an act. Let who you are ring out and resonate in every word and every deed. Yes, become who you are. There’s no sidestepping your own being or your own responsibility. What you do is who you are. You are your own comeuppance. You become your own message. You are the message.”
As we entered the seventh month of 2020 in Philadelphia, 210 people had already been murdered.
Among them was 22-year-old Tyshawn Woods. He was shot to death on the 4400 block of Old York Road in the city’s Logan section, and he is the nephew of Philadelphia Police Inspector Derrick Woods. In a story about his murder posted on the CBS Philly website, Eyewitness News reporters found a message painted outside a home on North Broad Street that read: “If black lives matter, stop black on black killings -- period.”
Embrace the message, brothers and sisters.
In all the reports on the protests happening nationwide, rarely has there been a voice of outrage for these lives lost. Where is the indignation over the never-ending violence that happens every day in black and brown communities across the nation? This is why my heart is broken. This is why my spirit is burdened.
Let’s put this in context.
In Philadelphia over the July 4 weekend, 31 people were shot and seven of them were killed, including a six-year-old boy. Checking the Philadelphia Police Department’s homicide statistics, from 2007-19, 3,731 people were murdered in the city. Most of the victims were Black men between the ages of 18 to 35 and many of these people were killed by other Black men in the same age group. Let that number sink in: 3,731.
On June 22, it was reported that 104 people were shot in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods. Fifteen, including five children, were killed in a wave of gunfire over Father's Day weekend.
There have been no reported protests or outrage over these victims who will never breathe again. Excuse me; didn’t I hear some protesters scream something about genocide?
There’s a long overdue focus being put on the problems of our nation right now. However, we can’t endeavor to fix those problems and ignore their peripheral issues.
Our hearts are broken. Our spirits are burdened. Here is the message:
“No human being should ever have to fear for his own life because of political or religious beliefs. We are all in this together, my friends -- the rich, the poor, the red, white, black, brown and yellow. We share responsibility for Mother Earth and those who live and breathe upon her, never forget that.”
– Leonard Peltier
Larry Miller is the Special Projects Manager Ceisler Media's Philadelphia Office.