Ferguson is happening again. And by that I mean: once again our country (or at least the people in it that are paying attention) are seeing how much we do not live in a post-racial society and how much injustice still exists in everyday institutions. I almost didn’t want to write anything about this today, but in the end I felt like pretending it wasn’t happening wasn’t a good idea either.
Watching all of this go down today reminded of the riots in LA in 1992 after the Rodney King trial. (I really hope that this doesn’t become anything on the scale (injury/destruction-wise) of those riots.) I was 11 at the time and the trial was a big deal at my school, not because I went to a racially diverse school (it was a mostly white Catholic parochial school) but because the daughter of one of the police officers on trial was in my class. It was kind of a scary time, but I didn’t really understand the full enormity of what was going on. And I was pretty sheltered from the worst of it. It was happening in another part of the city, involving people that I didn’t know.
The day the verdict was delivered, the day the riots started, I went to my piano lessons as usual. I took piano from a nice lady who lived sort of close to me. Her house was full of framed cross-stitched platitudes and probably smelled like cats. She was an amazing piano player and a very good teacher. I didn’t really know anything else about her. Until the evening of the riots.
We were part way through our lesson when her phone rang. It was a young man. He was panicking and very upset. She talked to him for a while and tried to calm him down. She asked him about what was going on. It turns out that my piano teacher spent her a good part of her weekends down in South Central LA volunteering and working with inner city kids. She had this whole other life that I didn’t know about. This young man that called her panicked was one of the people she worked with down there and he was seemingly in the middle of the emerging riots. He was telling her about what he saw outside his window. It sounded awful, and I felt helpless and at the same time finally was beginning to see things outside of my suburban bubble. I think about her occasionally and about that young man even more. I wonder what happened to him, the man on the other side of the phone call. I will never know.
It doesn’t seem like a lot has changed since 1992 with respect to racial politics. But one thing has changed: we have the internet, specifically social media. And with that, we have access to so many voices that we wouldn’t have had before. Now it’s much harder to ignore things that are happening in another state or another country or even in the “other” part of your city. You can still ignore reality, but it takes a bit more work. If no one on your Facebook page or twitter stream was talking about Ferguson, maybe you need some new friends1.
Earlier this evening I was trying to find something that might help me process and think about this. I found my copy of The Sixties Reader and the reprint of Pilgrimage to Nonviolence by Martin Luther King Jr. (from his 1958 Stride Toward Freedom). In it, MLK Jr. details six principles of nonviolent resistance. Here are some quotations from it that might help a small amount:
The attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil. It is evil that the nonviolent resister seeks to defeat, not the persons victimized by evil. If he is opposing racial injustice, the nonviolence resister has the vision to see that the basic tension is not between races. … The tension is, at bottom, between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. … We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust.
Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their own sakes. It is an entirely “neighbor-regarding concern for others,” which discovers the neighbor in every man it meets.
I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love.
I can go out into the world tomorrow and not have to worry about the police thinking I am threat to them just by the way I look. Maybe someday that will be different. I hope that someday is soon. The world needs to change. And we all have to help.
P.S. If you can, please donate to the Ferguson Library that will be taking care of kids tomorrow when school is closed because of all of this.
- The openness and easy discovery of other voices on twitter in these kinds of circumstances is one of the reasons I prefer it to fb. ↩