The litany of the condemned

searching for canaan

In some Christian denominations, part of the weekly worship is something called a litany. It is often offered as a time where the congregation can be at its most pious, when members not only listen and reflect but also participate. It is spoken as a call and response–almost a conversational prayer between leader and congregation, if you will. But you see, not all litanies are spoken between the walls of a church. Any series of repeated acts, sounds, movements or words can be a litany. 

There is one litany that this nation knows all too well, a litany we often choose to ignore, only paying attention to it when forced. It is one that some may not even know exists, and one that others are all too familiar with…

What does a litany sound like? 

It sounds like Black Church mothers on their knees praying that sons and grandsons live to see another day 

It sounds like Black fathers giving their little Black boys “the talk”... you know the one where they tell you do whatever it takes to get home safe 

It sounds like Black Mothers standing in the doorway, silently hoping their children walk back through the door at the end of the day 

What does a litany sound like? 

It sounds like a pack of Skittles hitting the ground

It sounds like a four old girl screaming as her father dies before her very eyes

It sounds like a father of seven gasping for air as his windpipe is crushed

It sounds feet hitting the pavement as they attempt to outrun vigilantes 

It sounds like a woman breathing peacefully in her sleep as her life is stolen

It sounds like ten bullets ripping through flesh 

It sounds like seven bullets ending a life 

What does a Litany sound like?

It sounds like Scheming.

It sounds like Plotting.

It sounds like Denying. 

It sounds like Excuses. 

It sounds like Falsehoods. 

It  sounds like Vilification. 

What does a litany sound like? 

It sounds like an endless loop of news cycles saying Not all cops are bad.

It sounds like a district attorney saying there’s Not enough evidence. 

It sounds like a jury saying not guilty Not guilty. 

What does a litany sound like? 

It sounds like Half assed condolences your mother would trade anything for just to see you smile

Like Hashtags your wife would erase if it meant watching you walk through the door at night,

Like Murals your siblings would wash away for the chance at one last conversation with you, 

Like Rally cries and chants your family would silence if it meant hearing you laugh.

What does a litany sound like?

It sounds like tears hitting the pavement as black mothers bury their babies 

It sounds like Black children asking why the men who protect and serve did not protect their fathers 

It sounds like Black sisters wailing as they watch their brothers’ bodies lowered into the ground 

Is this not what you thought when I asked what litany sounded like? 

Were you expecting a litany of prayer, or peace, maybe even one of justice? 

So were we. 

But instead we were given the Litany of the condemned. 

Tatayana Richardson is a Trinity senior who thinks the United States justice system is currently a dumpster fire. Her column “Searching for Canaan” runs on alternate Mondays. 


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