Jacob Blake and Harriet Tubman


One can only wonder at the thinking of policemen who, after all the outrage at cops killing unarmed black people, do it again. Have they not, by this time, been instructed to use their weapons only in self defense, to have some sensitivity to Black Lives Matter? Do they think that all of the other killings were justified and didn't go far enough?

Or, when a terrible scene keeps repeating itself, is this what systemic or structural violent racism looks like? Assuming the police have been well trained, is this what they have been trained to do? 

Please watch Trevor Noah's video about the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin a week ago. He asks the right questions.

I have been looking again at the  Harriet Tubman mural, painted last year by Michael Rosato on the outside wall of the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center in Cambridge, Maryland. The painting shows a strong and determined Ms. Tubman reaching  through the brick wall for the hand of a slave to lead that slave to freedom. There is no slave pictured. You, the viewer, are invited to imagine yourself the fleeing slave. In the background lies a rowboat and the water Harriet Tubman will row you across. 

Harriet Tubman mural

This painting is incredibly effective. The moment of decision - its fear and courage and hope - are powerfully present in Tubman’s outstretched hand. It reminds me of Michelangelo’s mural of God reaching to touch Adam’s hand to give him life. What I find in Rosato’s mural, too, is an invitation, not to runaway slaves but to white people today - to take her hand and flee our entrenched racism, our white privilege and supremacy, the denial of our racism which manifests itself in the repeated police shootings of black people. But the shootings are just the more visible and obvious of our cruel structural systems: unequal education, housing, jobs, health care, income, and opportunity, atop a blighted history.

Listen to Trevor Noah. Take Harriet Tubman’s hand and cross that wide water. Free yourself. Free this country. 

Robert Shetterly