Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ~ Martin Luther King
There’s a dog barking somewhere in the neighborhood as I write this. I don’t expect it to bark too long, as most people on my street, as a general rule, tend to let their dogs inside if they’re barking. There’s a house on the other side of the street whose car alarm goes off at least once a week, sometimes for upwards of ten minutes. But even that is just an annoyance.
It’s a weird thing, living in a big city after so very many years in a small town. Just a few miles east and the neighborhoods are more affluent, with bigger houses and nicer cars. Just a few miles west, incomes are lower, and houses are older. Where we live though, smack in the middle, is pretty solidly middle middle class. It’s not a fancy new development…. just a regular old street with houses built sometime in the mid to late 80s. Our neighbors are friendly enough, things are generally quiet and (pleasantly) boring, and I feel safe walking around the block, even if it’s dark out.
I don’t know what it’s like to live in an inner city neighborhood. I don’t know what it’s like to live in a place with unrest.
I don’t know what it’s like to be someplace like Ferguson.
But I’ll get back to that in a little bit.
Because it’s not just where I live. As I sit here in my regular old house on my regular old street, in my jeans and Chuck Taylors, drinking my wine while my husband watches The Walking Dead beside me, I’m a cliche. I’m a 40 year old, white, Christian, stay-at-home mother who’s been married forever. My husband has a good job. I have four kids, one dog, and one cat. I drive an SUV. I’m a suburban soccer mom (except I don’t live in the suburbs, and none of my kids play soccer.) We have worked hard for the past 21 years of our marriage, to be sure, but I’ve lived a life of privilege. No major tragedies. No major hardships. No major disadvantages.
I don’t know what it’s like to have to constantly worry that my son walking to the store for Skittles and iced tea might get gunned down and killed before he makes it home.
I’ll get back to that later too.
I was 18 before I saw racism first-hand. Eighteen! It sounds so strange to me now, as it’s so much a part of the landscape today. Had I really lived in that much of a bubble? It was 1992, and I’d gone away to a Christian college in the south. We weren’t there for a week before someone said to me and my then-boyfriend (now husband), “So what do you think of black people?” All casual, as matter-of-factly as if he’d asked us about our favorite TV shows. What do you think of black people? When we didn’t answer fast enough (both of us still trying to make sense of the fact that he’d really just asked that) he kept talking: ”I don’t have a problem with them….. as long as they stay in their place.”
And that was just the first of many such conversations that year that convinced me that not only did racism still exist, but that it was alive and well in a “good Christian college” in Searcy, Arkansas.
And lest I think that it’s not still alive and well, I encountered it again just last week, when a perfectly friendly (up until that point) encounter with a friend of a friend at a party turned into a discussion of the events in Ferguson. In one concise little sentence, she boldly and unabashedly (so unabashedly) shared her negative opinion of an entire race of people, and I was once again that 18 year girl in a bubble, wondering if I’d really heard what I’d thought I’d heard.
And as the national conversation once again turns to racism in the wake of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice’s deaths, people are so quick to deny that race could have played a role, that they are completely sidestepping an issue that so desperately needs to be discussed. A bit of compassion that so desperately needs to be present. An awareness that so desperately needs to be raised.
Ironically, the same people who are indignantly yelling, “This has nothing to do with race!!” are the same people who are giving in to the very racism that they’re denying. I saw a meme floating around that read, “Remember how white people rioted after OJ’s acquittal? Me neither.” And you know what? Maybe they didn’t. But they rioted in Boston when the Red Sox won (multiple times), just one of many, many sports-related riots. They rioted in Pennsylvania when Penn State fired football coach Joe Paterno after learning that he’d been aware of his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky’s, molestation of young boys and did not report it. And just over a month ago, they rioted in Keene, NH…. the little city I grew up going to church in, spent all my weekends with my friends, got my first job, had my first date…. They rioted in Keene during a PUMPKIN FESTIVAL.
White people riot too.
And no one wants to talk about all the people who are exercising their right to demonstrate peacefully. The ones who are trying to protect their town. The ones who are just trying to make sense of what’s happened. The ones who are tired, and broken, and weary and still standing strong.
I hear so many people moaning, “I am so SICK of everything being about race all the time.” And that very well may be true… but I’d imagine that the people who are actually dealing with said racism are even more tired of it than you are.
And I get it. It’s a complicated, multi-faceted issue, and it’s one I don’t pretend to understand.
I don’t understand how anyone can blindly, unfailingly trust that the officer is the one in the right, and I don’t understand why questioning it automatically makes someone a “cop-hater.”
I don’t hate cops.
This is what I hate:
I hate systemic injustice.
I hate that people are dying.
I hate that people are more concerned with being right than they are about having some compassion for their fellow human beings.
I hate that Eric Garner died as a result of a choke hold, a move that has been banned by police protocol for the past decade, when he was not being aggressive or attacking the officer in any way. I hate that the officer was not indicted.
I hate that Tamir Rice, a 12 year old child, was killed by an officer who was declared UNFIT FOR DUTY two years ago.
I hate that there are parents, and sisters, and friends, and wives who have to constantly worry about whether or not their loved one is going to make it home alive.
Mostly I hate that at times like this, when people are outraged and frustrated and emotional, that they’re fighting with each other instead of standing together, having the hard uncomfortable conversations, and saying,
This isn’t right. This is a problem.
I feel sick about this, and I don’t know the answer. I don’t.
And I understand that Michael Brown wasn’t a model citizen. I get that. And the how and the why of that is a whole other important conversation that needs to be had. But he was a person. He was a life. I just can’t wrap my head around a society that’s okay with him getting killed, unarmed, his body left in the street for four hours. I can’t wrap my head around a society that’s okay with a 12 year old getting killed, unarmed, within two seconds of the officer arriving, for playing with an air-soft gun with the orange tab removed. I can’t wrap my head around a society that’s okay with Eric Garner getting killed, unarmed, in an act that the coroner deemed homicide, an act caught on video tape, an act for which the officer will face no responsibility. Why are we okay with that???
It’s not okay. None of it’s okay. I saw people celebrating – celebrating – that Darren Wilson wouldn’t be indicted. Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted, he’s left his job, and Michael Brown is still dead. An 18 year old kid is dead, but yes, by all means, lets celebrate. Hurray for justice.
I’m told that I’m too led by emotions; that I fail to see things rationally over my feelings.
I can’t apologize for that. I can’t. Because sometimes – a lot of times – I feel like our emotions, our feelings, our heart, our compassion, our empathy … that’s all we’ve got.
So I’ll sit here, in my quiet house on my quiet street (the dog has stopped barking, and it has fittingly started to rain) and I’ll keep talking about it. I’ll keep asking questions about it. I’ll keep CARING about it, because I don’t know what else to do. I’ll send peace and love to the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. To the ones who are killed or harmed every day that we’ll never even hear about. To the families who live with constant worry. To the ones who so very badly want to do good in a system, and a society, that is so very broken.
And as I read back on what I just wrote, my head tells me not to share it. The words came out wrong; too much was left unsaid; I said what I thought I meant but I didn’t say what I meant to say. But I’ll click “Publish” anyway, terrified that I’ll be persecuted, and knowing full well that I’ll never know what persecution really is.