“How forcible are right words!”
This past winter, I joined three co-defendants in Federal court to receive the verdict for our witness against family separation at the border. Nearly eighteen months prior, at the US Customs and Border Protection offices, and in the presence of law enforcement who had been tipped off and were waiting for us, the four of us had named this nation’s long history of racialized terrorism and withdrawn our consent for ICE to act in our name. Later, we had wearily huddled in prayer when we learned that—even as we gathered—ICE was mobilizing against immigrants in Maine.
Our lawyers had cautioned us to expect a guilty verdict. The prosecutor was requesting incarceration, so we went to court fully expecting to head to jail.
What we didn’t expect was the judge’s invitation to testify before sentencing. With no time to organize our thoughts, the four of us—along with others present in support—offered the raw truth of our grieving, ragged spirits. We spoke as parents, as immigrants, as people of color, as clergy, naming the atrocity of this country’s policies and practices, and our moral obligation to stand against them.
As he listened, a flush crept along the cheek and jawline of the judge.
I rose to speak last, at a loss for what I could possibly add to the witness of fierce love and holy rage that filled the room. Finally, I simply prayed that the process of creating justice for families at the border would receive as much care and attention as our own legal proceeding.
We were startled when the judge said he needed time to reflect before sentencing and took a brief recess. We were astonished when he sentenced us only to community service. He had been impacted, he told us, by the powerful testimony he had heard.
It was a small moment in the grand scheme of things. Still, it so often feels like we’re shouting into the void; it was a gift to be reminded that, however rarely, sometimes someone is listening.
Shout on, fierce truth-tellers.
May we as a nation stop turning from the truth of who we’ve been and who we are. May we find the courage to step into the horror and grief that will arise from that knowledge. And may we allow it to turn us toward repentance, reparations, and a collective demand for justice.