Black students at the Virginia Theological Seminary appreciate the support of white clergy who have joined their campaign against the use of African-American male images at police shooting ranges, but they don’t want it—not if it takes away from the ultimate point.
“I’m conflicted,” student Broderick Greer, 24, said to HuffPost. The hashtage, #UseMeInstead, was a campaign started to bring awareness to the North Miami Beach law enforcement officers who used actual mug shots of Black men as targets at the firing range.
The campaign picked up momentum, but with a twist: mostly white religious leaders were using the hashtag.
“I have so many wonderful white clergy friends involved in that hashtag,” Greer continued. “But it’s fallen into a ‘white savior’ narrative, that these white clergy have come to the aid of these helpless Black people. And I don’t think that’s what we’re trying to promote.
“We don’t want white people to be used instead of Black people as a target. We don’t want anyone to be used as target practice. We want everyone to live in a society where they’re not targeted for anything.”
According to the Rev. Angela Shannon, pastor of Dallas’ King Of Glory Lutheran Church, the idea for #UseMeInstead evolved from a discussion on a private Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Facebook group. Shannon said she suggested clergy members send their own photos to the police department.
The Rev. Joy M. Gonnerman and two other clergy members created a Facebook event, inviting pastors to send in photos of themselves in their religious clothing.
“Our faith teaches us that all human life is sacred. And when human life is devalued, Jesus teaches us to put ourselves in the place of those whose humanity is denied, just as He did,” the pastors wrote on the page.
The North Miami Beach City Council has since permanently banned the practice.
“These young men [the police] were shooting at were Black, but this was a reminder that they are human people, regardless of race,” Gonnerman told HuffPost about #UseMeInstead. “I understand the sentiment of the ‘white savior’ thing, but it doesn’t mean we should stand aside and say we have nothing to do at all.”
Shannon supported #UseMeInstead initially, but said the good intentions of the hashtag soon “derailed for a variety of reasons.”
“My white colleagues were using their privilege to step in, so to speak, but privilege is a double-edged sword because in the end what happened is that the privilege was used for both good and ill because it silenced Black voices,” Shannon said.
Nyasha Junior, an assistant professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at the Howard University School of Divinity, said the hashtag moves the focus away from Black lives and runs the risk of “centering whiteness.”
Like Greer, Junior said she noticed that Black clergy members hadn’t embraced #UseMeInstead on Twitter.
“I think that’s because Black clergy recognize that they could have been those photos, that they look like those mug shots and that their lives really are at stake,” Junior told HuffPost.