How do you say something without adding to the noise?
Is it possible?
Over the past week, I’ve wanted to offer something redemptive in the wake of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the massacre in Dallas.
“Don’t be silent,” many said. Yet my fear is to be like those who have nothing to say, but say it anyway.
And nuance is another casualty of violence. It seems to die alongside the victims.
Here, though, are a few half-formed thoughts:
- I need to listen.
As a rural white kid, I know little of what it means to be black in America. That very obvious admission is an important step. Nor do I have experience in law enforcement. Given that, it would be wise for me to do some careful listening. We need to do that. While social media is a great place for “sounding off,” I wonder how much listening happens there. And as a white guy, I especially need to listen to the black community.
So here’s my most important point: While I am on vacation now, when I do return I’d like to sit down for lunch with some of my black friends and acquaintances. I need to listen—face to face—and I am ashamed to say I haven’t done that more. I’d also like to do that with some cops I know. It’s clear that we have a problem in this country, and my sense is that no solution will come until we actually hear each other, beyond the comment boxes.
Yet listening is not synonymous with silence, so here are a few more thoughts:
- It should not be difficult to decry BOTH senseless violence by police and senseless violence against cops.
A few weeks ago, I happened to see (again) the video of the Rodney King beating. It remains shocking. Here was a guy lying facedown (not resisting) while being clubbed almost to death after a traffic stop. It goes on and on.
Perhaps most shocking is then the remembrance that the officers were in fact acquitted of all wrongdoing. Go back and watch the video if that doesn’t shock you.
To be blunt, that’s why members of the black community find it difficult to “trust the investigation” after these events. They’ve seen that movie already. Literally.
So here’s my question: Why is it difficult to condemn THAT (what happened to King and certain other recent incidents) while also saying that most cops are decent people doing a difficult, dangerous, and thankless job?
Surely we can do both.
To prosecute bad cops is not to impugn police as a whole. It is not to say, monolithically, that cops are bad.
In the same way, to affirm that “black lives matter” and to admit that there is still a racial disparity in our justice system need not be “anti-police.” It may actually be pro-police, because for every Rodney King or Philando Castile, life gets more dangerous for the good and decent cops I know. And I don’t want that.
This is important: To decry police misconduct is itself a step toward protecting good cops, like those in Dallas who shielded protesters from bullets. It is actually part of what it means to be pro-cop.
- If you have a problem with the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” don’t read the Sermon on the Mount.
Some of my white friends have joined the ranks of those decrying the BLM slogan with the response that “All lives matter.” This is true. But it is also an adventure in missing the point. As Lecrae pointed out recently, it’s like angrily telling someone with lung cancer that “hey man, breast cancer matters too!” (see here.)
And for Christians especially, it is important to note that Christ’s most famous sermon does not say: “Blessed is everybody.”
Instead, Jesus goes out of his way to single out a marginalized minority from within a broader whole. Does God love everyone? Yes. Does everyone matter? Yes again. But Jesus still says, “Blessed are the poor … Blessed are the persecuted … Blessed are the meek.”
Christ exclusively and intentionally focuses upon smaller subsets of disenfranchised individuals inside a larger (blessed) populace.
I wonder how the ALM respondents would respond to Jesus’ sermon.
Would they tweet the following?
Actually Jesus, the rich and safe are blessed as well. Read Deuteronomy.
One need not affirm every statement of the BLM organization in order to affirm that “Black Lives Matter.” (All organizations are mixed bags, including the police.) And to rigidly insist on “all lives matter,” in response to “black lives matter” is to display either ignorance or antipathy toward Jesus’ very way of preaching.
- Violence is a feedback loop; only love can stop it.
Retributive violence is a feedback loop; it always grows and spreads.
Violence begets violence, begets violence, begets violence.
After the terrible massacre in Dallas, it became more difficult to deal with the lingering racial disparity in our criminal justice system. That retributive act (by a lone gunman) didn’t right the injustices done to Castile or Sterling. What it did was make the black community, and all of us, less safe. (My black friends know that.)
Because retributive violence almost always does this.
Thus again, the Sermon on the Mount:
“Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt. 5.9).
In the end, there is no tidy solution to the racial divide within this country.
Reconciliation takes time and face to face relationships: barbecues, prayer meetings, hugs and handshakes.
And without question, the solution will come over dinner tables more than in the pixeled battlefield of cyberspace where all are bold and brilliant.
Remember that if you comment on this post. I’ll do likewise.
4 thoughts on “Black and Blue: Race and Violence in the wake of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas Massacre”
Josh, as one who has known you for these last, 12? years, I am so appreciative of your words, your embracing and communication of truth that challenges us as those who desire to love mankind as Christ does. You may not know I claim you as an adopted, since you’ve been around my table during your c,ollege days, but I do…
Caroline, Thanks for the kind words! I’ll happily accept the claim as one of your adoptables 🙂