Protesters in Charlotte Hugged the Soldiers Sent to Suppress Them

As I watch MSNBC’s coverage of the Charlotte, NC protests, I see protesters hugging the heavily armed and armored National Guardsmen who had been brought in to push them of the streets in half an hour when the curfew starts. 

I am amazed. 

When Jesus said to bless those who curse you … this must be what he meant. 

Something went wrong the prior night, and violence broke out. The protesters made sure that didn’t happen again.  It was clear the police didn’t have enough people’s to control the protests, but the protestors controlled themselves. 

The national Guard was called in to enforce the mayor’s curfew. 

They came in Humvees, wearing heavy armor and carrying assault rifles straight out of Iraq.

And the protesters responded with hugs. 

These protesters are so much better than I am, and so much better than the people they’re proposing against. 

All I can do is speak out where I can,  and pray for them.

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Pray for Dallas and the Families of the Slain

This was a terrible, terrible tragedy.

We should pray for the families of all involved:

  • The offers who were killed
  • The officers who were wounded, and struggle to recover
  • The civilians who were shot
  • The family of the murderer, who by all appearances were ignorant of his terrible plans, and now have to wonder how the person they loved could do something like this
  • Pray for the whole city of Dallas, and for our nation. Pray for Baton Rouge and St. Paul, too.

Being a police officer is obviously a dangerous job. While some jobs (like logging and fishing) are more dangerous in terms of death and injury, police face the added psychological danger of active, malevolent violence.

It can’t be an easy job to do, and they all need our prayers.

Black and White

Becoming vegan was surprisingly easy. It was definitely low-risk.
Not like protesting in the streets.
It’s not going to get me fired, arrested, or shot
(Although as a 41 year old white man, that last one is pretty unlikely)

And I don’t know what to do about that.
I’m not willing to get fired, arrested, or shot.
(However unlikely that last one is)
I have a daughter to protect and provide for.
I have a wife I don’t want to leave.
And honestly, I don’t want to suffer.

So what can I do? What will I do?

We don’t live in a just world. Let’s put aside the shades of gray for just a minute and try to see the world in black and white:

Black people are far more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for selling drugs, even though white people are more likely to actually sell drugs

Black people are incarcerated at six times the rate of white people

Black college students have the same rate of getting jobs as white high-school dropouts.

Black men with no criminal records have the same rate of getting hired as white men fresh out of prison. It seems people expect black men to have criminal backgrounds.

Black people have been killed by police at over twice the rate of white people in 2015 and 2016 so far.
12% of the US Population, but 27% of the dead
306 out of 1146 killed in 2015
136 out of 561 killed in 2016
That’s almost a hundred people of all races, and 25 black people a month.
That’s almost three people a day, with a black person being killed almost every day.

If you’re wondering why your Facebook feed won’t stop blowing up with videos and reports of black men being shot down, it’s because it’s happening almost every day.

Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were just two more in a long list of black lives cut down violently.

…Now, back to the shades of gray …

I’m still not willing to get fired, arrested, or shot.
But I’m willing to put my voice out there.
I’m willing to keep talking and writing about it
I’m willing to sign petitions
I’m willing to write to my various elected officials
I’m willing to consider this the most pressing issue our country is facing, and vote accordingly (even if I’m voting for someone I otherwise don’t like)

I’m willing to LISTEN to people who have LIVED this experience
I’m willing to admit that I’ll only ever know ABOUT these things, that I won’t ever KNOW them.

I’m willing to admit that I DON’T and CAN’T have the answers to these ongoing atrocities, and to LISTEN to black voices as they speak up:

  • Campaign Zero has outlined extensive, comprehensive solutions that address the problems of police militarization, community distrust, and disproportionate impact on the black community from a number of angles.
  • The black police union in St. Louis have started something powerful. They’ve released a 112 page report of what’s wrong with their department, and they’re calling on their chief to quit. This is a radical and almost unprecedented action, breaking the “blue wall” that shelters violent police officers and penalizes police who speak out. If other police groups join in, this could be the start of real and lasting change.
  • Also, be sure to pray for Officer Nakia Jones, who just called out the police responsible for Alton Sterling’s shooting. Pray that she isn’t harassed, doxxed, fired, assaulted, or worse.

I’m willing to admit how privileged I am to be in a position where I can choose to play it safe, and admit that it’s because I’m white.

I’m willing to say “Black Lives Matter.”

Because black people aren’t safe. And too many people treat them like they don’t matter.

And I’m willing to say their names, or at least a few of their names:
Alton Sterling
Philando Castile
Eric Garner
Sandra Bland
Tamir Rice
John Crawford III
Freddie Gray

And hundreds more.

“Race” is a Four-Letter Word (Part One: Suspicious Behavior)

This past week has been a big one for talking about race in America. I think we all know why. I’m not here to talk about that tragedy, that verdict, or whether it was right or wrong.

I wasn’t on the jury. I haven’ t seen the evidence and heard the eyewitness testimony. I don’t know if the verdict was right or wrong. But that isn’t the point.

The point is, a lot of young black men have died in similar ways. A lot. This slideshow shows just a few.  And a lot of times, their killers have either gone free or gotten away with a slap on the wrist.

If the Trayvon Martin case was an aberration, it would just be sad. But it’s part of a pattern. An ugly, unjust, institutionalized pattern. And I think that people of good conscience need to speak out on this pattern.

When I was young, I always tried to deal respectfully with police officers. But mostly they left me alone. I wasn’t doing anything criminal, and they didn’t assume or suspect me of doing anything criminal.

For a long time I assumed that was the default.

It is, for white guys…

…but not so much for African-American, Middle-Eastern, and Latino men.

I’m no celebrity. I’m no TV star. Celebrities get treated better, right? They get away with things mere mortals wouldn’t?

Maybe not. Levar Burton is beloved celebrity, a role model to a generation of kids who grew up watching “Reading Rainbow” and “Star Trek: the Next Generation,” shows that glorified education, personal advancement, and (usually) nonviolence.  He is also, if you haven’t figured it out yet, a black man.

I don’t have a ritual for when I get pulled over by police (other than “try not to get pulled over by police.” Traffic tickets are expensive). I’d never think to pre-plan a set of actions to make sure the officer knew I was unarmed and not resisting. Why would that even occur to me?

Levar Burton does. 

Lest you think that Mr. Burton is alone, or paranoid, read this story, about a young honors student whose mother drilled the same practices into his head. He’s far more accomplished than I was at that age, but he has to prove himself every time.

I never would have believed or understood this just a few years ago, but I really think the most “suspicious behavior” a person can display being male and dark skinned.

 

Four Types of Violence, Part Five: Some Parting Thoughts

Peace Sign made of garlic, photo by David Goehring, Creative Commons

Good for the World, Good on Spaghetti
Photo by David Goehring, Creative Commons

I’ve been talking about violence a lot lately, and I think it’s time to bring it to a close now.  Kurt Willems has a great series here outlining a powerful argument for total pacifism among Christians.  Needless to say, there are other interpretations.  MT at Biblical Self Defense  discusses several OT and NT passages that relate to self defense, including armed self-defense, as not just a necessary evil, but a positive good.

Though I have not yet been swayed to the point of actual pacifism, I have to say that Kurt Willems’ arguments have profoundly affected me. He’s helped me to reassess my overall attitude towards violence done in my name as an American, the violence in the media that I consume, and the violence in the culture that I create.

And let’s face it, our American culture is awash in violence. We glorify revenge at every turn. Even as Christians, if you look at the time we spend watching violent films and TV, we probably glorify “good guys killing bad guys” more than we glorify God.

So what is the answer? I’m afraid I don’t have the whole answer. I may never have it. But I’ll keep wrestling with it. I know this much for sure:

Even without being convinced of true pacifism, the kind that would not use force to resist a home invader who threatens my pregnant wife, the kind that would not use force to resist the Nazis in World War II – even without taking that (admittedly radical) step … I can commit to pursuing peace today, through:

  • Questioning the violent actions my government takes, whether declared wars or unilateral (even unmanned) actions
  • Questioning the level of violence used in our justice system, especially against peaceful protesters and nonviolent offenders
  • Questioning the violence that is allowed to happen by authorities turning a blind eye or simply being overwhelmed: bullying in schools, beatings and rape in prisons.
  • Turning the other cheek in personal disputes, refusing to use even verbal ‘violence’
  • Protesting verbal violence, especially misogynist and racist bullying
  • Valuing the lives of foreigners in distant nations as much as I do my own, especially if they are civilians
  • Examining the culture I consume and create, and expunging anything that glorifies violence as a positive good.

The Violent Imagination 1: Self-Justification and Police Dramas

I really like Major Crimes, TNT’s The Closer spin-off featuring Mary McConnell as Captain Sharon Raydor, who’s replacing Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgewick) as the leader of a Los Angeles police unit tasked with investigating murders, kidnappings, and other (drum roll please) major crimes.  I’m actually watching the show now, like I never watched The Closer.

And I think I know why.

Under Deputy Chief Johnson’s watch, there was a lot of “we’ll bend and break the rules, but it’s okay, because we’re the good guys.”  This escalated to the point of setting a gangbanger up to get killed because they thought he got too sweet a deal for turning state’s evidence.  The entire unit, Chief Johnson included, were effectively murderers.  How do we sympathize with that?  How does the use of police authority and resources for extra-judicial killings not disgust us?

The same kind of self-justifying evil leads to hatred from the pulpit, protests at gay soldiers’ funerals, pepper spraying peaceful protesters, beating suspects even after they’re handcuffed, indefinite detention, and waterboarding at Guantanamo Bay.

It leads a nation to declare its “manifest destiny” to spread “Christian civilization” from the Atlantic to the Pacific, no matter how many “savages” they have to murder along the way.  It leads a bunch of good religious folk to yell “we have no king but Caesar” and “crucify him,” until Pontius Pilate washes his hands of it all.

It’s a vile and insidious mindset, one that steals our empathy and threatens our very humanity.  Whenever somebody truly believes their side is “the good guys,” everyone outside that group had better beware. Self-righteousness, self-justification, self-idolization … they lead to cruelty, arrogance, and suffering.

This is utterly incompatible with Jesus’ teaching, yet it rings from pulpits and across the Internet.  “Slap the gay out of your children,” one preacher says from the pulpit.  “Build a fence and lock the gays away,”  another preaches.  Sure, when it gets that outrageous, people push back, but every day I see anti-gay rhetoric across Facebook and the web.  Quieter, sure, less extreme, but possibly uglier in its pervasiveness.

It doesn’t matter if being gay is a sin.  As Christians, we are called to be better than the world, to love our neighbors and our enemies [Matthew 5:44]   Instead we wallow in the spirit of the worst of the Pharisees, so certain that we’re right that we don’t even try to love our neighbors.

And I can’t stand to see it glorified on cop shows.  They stack the premises by making sure we, the audience, know the suspects are guilty.  They manipulate our emotions, creating the false dichotomy between “we break the rules to protect you and enforce justice” and “if we followed the rules, the bad guys would go free.”

The problem is in the real world, you don’t know who’s guilty and who’s innocent, not 100%, not ever.  Those rules are there to protect the innocent from false accusation, coerced confession, and brutality AND to protect the powerful from becoming corrupt, lazy, self-justifying tools of oppression.  And that’s exactly what the Major Crimes unit was under Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson.

But Captain Raydor is the very opposite.  Originally introduced in The Closer as a painfully by-the-book foil for the loose cannon unit, she’s not their boss.  And she’s made it her mission to make them obey the rules, come hell or high water.  She’s just as tough and strong-willed as Brenda was, but she serves the law, rather than acting like a law unto herself.  And that’s something I can admire.