Jessie Hernandez was a queer teenager. We are very uninformed about exactly what happened in the moments that led to their being shot by two Denver Police Officers. Still, many of us knew we needed to go. We needed to be present while a community mourned the loss of a child.
This was my first time attending the vigil of someone killed in a violent way. A few people from our community at Mile High Ministries make it a habit to have what they call Moments of Blessing when a shooting happens in Denver. I have always been interested by this practice, but never found myself being a part of it. I suppose that taking part in some of those might have helped prepare me for last night. Truthfully, I was at a loss for what to say or do. This became especially true when I walked to the alley where several of Jessie’s friends were gathered weeping over a host of candles and a teddy bear they had arranged for their friend.
As I stood awkwardly next to these teenagers I felt so uncomfortable that all I could do was stand in silence. “My presence is enough” I thought. Then someone pointed out three teenage boys who had been with Jessie hours before their friend was killed. They were rough looking boys. To be honest, they fit the image of boys I should be afraid of according to a dominant narrative being told in my city. Not only did their looks cause me to feel immediate discomfort, their words were alarming as well. They were so irritated by the “Camera Bitches” they saw as only looking for spotlight while they just wanted to be left alone to mourn their friend. They lit a joint and stood in silence a few feet from me. At that moment I admit that I felt scared. I felt incredibly uncomfortable. I even considered leaving before what I feared would become a fight ensued.
Then I remembered my new mantra. This mantra is something very new to me that is the direct result of my time with my friends in the Black Lives Matter Movement. I started saying quietly to myself, “When I feel uncomfortable, where is the invitation?”
I knew immediately where the invitation was. I needed to introduce myself to the boys who had triggered a part of me so deeply affected by my society’s portrayal of angry young people of color.
So I walked over and said, “I am so sorry you lost your friend.” Immediately their posture changed. They expressed that they felt many of us were there for the wrong reason, but said “Thank you sir” when I told them why I was there. I said, “I am here because I want you to know that you are not the only ones mourning your friend. You are not alone.”
We talked for about 3 or 4 minutes and they decided to go home. I don’t think they were profoundly impacted by their conversation with me, but I most definitely was.
It was at that moment that I realized what I hoped for in all of this. I was listening to a Celtic Minstrel recently who sang a song that went something like this: Meet me on the plain of love. Beyond Right and Wrong. Meet me on the plain of love.
In the days and weeks to come the media, and many of us, will try to sift through the details of exactly what led to Jessie Hernandez being killed by those police officers. But last night I realized that I have a goal that goes well beyond those details.
My goal for this movement is to invite as many of you as possible to join me in being willing to sit in the uncomfortable space of saying, “I am not sure what happened, but I know you lost someone you love.” It is my goal to invite as many of you as possible to join me in being willing to truly listen to a hurting community telling us they are being oppressed rather than working so hard to keep ourselves comfortable by invalidating their grief. I know this goal does not encompass the depth of what needs to happen, but I believe it to be a necessary place to start.
I came home smelling like weed because I reluctantly followed Jesus by mourning with those who mourn and believing that it was exactly where I needed to be.