The Justice We Demand for Others Is the Justice We Demand for Ourselves

Since the murder of George Floyd on May 25, I have been reminded again and again that if we want to understand something at more than a surface level, we must feel, not just think. Or imagine and feel our self into the experience we are hoping to grasp. Not that we can always get it by using empathy, but we can grasp that we don’t get it. In the past, I kept myself at an emotional distance from the reality of racism. But we pay a price when we don’t let the fact of another’s pain touch us.

 

Pain is uncomfortable, but it is something we all share. We know this. We each have our own memories, our own experiences, our own type and weight of pain. Too many have way too much of it. But the actuality is something we share.

 

Sometimes, pain is too much to face and we put it aside in fear it will overwhelm us. Sometimes, the moment is not right.  And as a white person I can enjoy a sense of safety that others are denied.

 

But sometimes witnessing pain can crack us open. Our own wounds cry out: we, too, could be feeling this. One person’s suffering touches our own and reminds us who we are⎼ reminds us maybe we’re all not siblings, but we are all human beings. And we deny this at our peril.

 

I’m not sure of much right now but I feel this very strongly: this time, right now, is our best hope to address hundreds of years of racism, of pain and injustice. And by doing so, by taking action, we save this nation from becoming something even more awful, of becoming a full dictatorship or a white nationalist state. We save the possibility of what Martin Luther King called the “real promises of democracy.” Racism is at the heart of what has undermined democracy and the rule of law in this country since it was first conceived. How can we have a rule of law when violence against some is built into the system supposedly for all?

 

The murder of George Floyd and the protests are making clear to so many how much racist violence is built into our society. On Friday, Rayshard Brooks, a 27 year old African American, was shot by police in Atlanta. There have been 11 other murders of Black people during the protests. There’s Marvin McAtee, who was cooking for people in his restaurant and went out his front door to see what was happening with the protests when he was shot by either police or the National Guard. Dave Patrick Underwood, a security guard at a federal courthouse, was killed by a drive by. Italia Kelly was shot as she was leaving a protest. And on and on. African Americans are killed by police at a rate far disproportionate to their numbers.

 

Even during the protests against racism, armed black men were arrested recently while armed white men avoided charges. Earlier, armed white nationalists were emboldened by the President. Last week, in mostly African American counties in Georgia, lines at polling places were up to 7 hours long, machines didn’t work, absentee ballots showed up late, etc. The GOP in Georgia have long been accused of purposefully working to make it difficult for African Americans to vote.  And that is just one example of GOP voter suppression. Afterall, for DT, voting is not a right guaranteed by law and the constitution, but an “honor”.

 

And there’s COVID-19, which has not only exposed the racism, inequities and failures of our health system, but the malevolence and incompetence of the DT administration. African Americans have died from the virus at 3 times the rate of whites. The White House claims this is due to underlying health conditions common in Black people, like diabetes. But the statistics show another underlying condition- racial inequities, like lack of access for testing and treatment. There are even inequities in data from the DT administration, which until this past week failed to keep statistics on the relation between race and deaths. The data we do have comes mostly from independent investigators and states. African Americans have also been hit extremely hard by the economic consequences of the pandemic.

 

We have seen DT use racism, along with sexism and other forms of hate and division, to capture and keep power⎼ and keep his face and voice in the front of the news cycle. His comments about Charlottesville, attacks on women of color in Congress, reporters, judges, etc. have filled headlines. To DT and his administration, we, those not rich and white, are merely chattel, “stock”. He has worked continuously to transfer wealth and power from the lower and middle classes to a small group of those rich and white.

 

Only over the last few weeks has he been pushed back to second or third place in the news. But he is trying to recapture attention. For example, he scheduled a campaign rally on June 19th, Juneteenth, the day celebrating the end of slavery in this country, in Tulsa, home of the Tulsa massacre. Then he decided to reschedule it. The very idea of the rally was so outrageous that it captured much attention. He is, for many of us, the face of awful. But this makes him, for others, their savior.  As reported in the New York Times, Omar Wasow, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton, said that there’s little reason, considering his history, that DT planned to go to Tulsa of all places “to try to ease intercommunal hostility rather than exacerbate it.”

 

Likewise, he outrageously scheduled a discussion (and fund raiser) in Dallas to talk about policing, but did not invite the African American Chief of Police, Sheriff, and District Attorney.

 

He first tried to destroy the protests with the military, then tried to steal their power with an executive order banning choke holds except when an officer’s life is at risk, and establishing a data base to track police misconduct. It is amazing that he took this step. But Business Insider and others noted, his order was “more about optics than making major changes.”

 

The pressure of protests in the streets is working and have spread worldwide. They have forced the people in power to recognize Black Lives Matter and they have reminded the rest of us our voices matter. Minneapolis is now planning to replace its police department with a community-led model. Many states, like New York, are reforming policing. Iowa passed reform legislation in just one day. Choke holds are being outlawed and the legal prohibitions for prosecuting police are being questioned and, in some places, dismantled. The House has introduced legislation to overhaul police policy and add accountability.

 

Racism has undermined the humanity and promise of this nation since its inception. But right now so much is on the table. The officers who murdered George Floyd are one face (amongst too many others) of racism. DT is another. Besides going after African Americans, Latino, Asian and Native Americans, DT has gone after Muslims and Jews. He has gone after women, seniors, transgender people, etc. Who is next?

 

So all of us, including those of us who are white, would benefit morally, emotionally and politically by ending racism. We benefit by actively supporting and joining the protests against the murder of George Floyd, against police brutality of people of color, and against the murder of justice.

 

Some of us might have to learn how to get better at tolerating discomfort and fear. But the justice we demand for others is also the justice we demand for ourselves.

 

Syndicated by The Good Men Project.

**Photo: thanks to Gary Bercow.

Amidst Anger, Fear, and Outrage there is Hope

Maybe I’m crazy. Amidst the anger, fear and outrage I feel right now, there is hope.

 

I am white and I support Black Lives Matter. I support speaking out for justice and against the abuses of governmental power. I support not only the righteous anger but the compassion for others expressed by these demonstrations. Rev. Al Sharpton spoke about the collective pain in the African American community. There is too much pain in our nation right now and the only medicine for it is justice.

 

A man, an African American man named George Floyd, was murdered by police. His video-taped cry “I can’t breathe” eerily echoed the same words spoken by Eric Garner in NYC in 2014 before he, too, was killed by police. And in Tacoma Washington, the Medical Examiner just ruled that Manuel Ellis was killed on March 3 by police. He, too, called out “I can’t breathe” before dying.

 

George Floyd was murdered last week, just about two months after another African-American, Breonna Taylor, was shot by police in her own home, and three months after Ahmaud Arbery was shot. It took three months before the murderers of Mr. Arbery were arrested.

 

All across the country protests began against this latest murder, largely peaceful protests, calling for justice. But then reports and videos of violence followed the demonstrations. Curfews were instigated, national guard activated. Chaos seemed to ensue in several cities.

 

This was frightening. Then photos were taken and shared, and peaceful Black protestors called out white instigators of that violence. It seemed these disrupters were mostly either thieves taking advantage of the protests to rip off businesses or white nationalists trying to discredit the demonstrations or instigate further violence. And one white man, a supporter of DT, drove a tractor-trailer into a huge crowd of protestors, evoking the image of a deadly attack by a terrorist driving a truck into a crowd of people in Nice, France, in 2016.

 

I feel outrage not only against the murder but that peaceful demonstrations could be twisted to serve the purposes of white nationalists and others, who represent the very deep social forces in this nation that have perpetrated violence against African-Americans and others in this country for years, since the beginning of this nation.

 

And in the background, DT fuels the flames, incites violence by his MAGA supporters, calls the African-American protestors “thugs.” Threatens to send in the military. But the armed white nationalists, who protest against the orders of Democratic Governors to stay home to keep themselves and others safe⎼ they, of course, are “good people.”

 

He is using the protests to create a new crisis and distract us from the ongoing pandemic of racism and COVID-19, which is still killing thousands. But I think⎼ or hope⎼ he has made a mistake. In the past, DT has worked to instill, in his supporters, hate of African Americans, Latinos and other people of color, Muslims, Jews, Democrats, and others, and instill fear in anyone who opposes him. (He even re-tweeted a video of a supporter saying, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”) What he’s done this time is turn his opponent’s frustration over continuing injustice into a conviction that the only viable choice they or we have is taking action.

 

And while the demonstrations are continuing, people are dying due to the coronavirus. Over 106,000 people have died. This virus has been made more lethal by the malignant mismanagement of the crisis by the DT government. The GOP have exploited the pandemic instead of responsibly facing it. Some have profited financially, not just for themselves but their mega-rich donors. According to Common Dreams, 41 million people have lost jobs while American billionaires grew $500 billion richer. They have readily sacrificed people to suit their own purposes, and African-Americans have disproportionately been the victims.

 

This all must end.

 

The police officer who killed George Floyd was charged this Wednesday with second degree murder. The others who stood by and aided and abetted in that crime have also been arrested. These arrests and the prosecutions that will follow, as well as changes in the operation of the police in Minneapolis, will be a tremendous first step. They are largely the result of people speaking up and taking to the streets. It is one step at a time. Changing the nation as a whole ⎼ that will hopefully follow.

 

In Minneapolis, there is at least a Democratic Mayor who has shown understanding of the history of racism this murder has exposed (although the president of the police union has not). The nation has a very different leader. For any deeper changes, DT must go.

 

So, why hope? Because we need hope to act. Because more than half of the people of this nation are sick of these injustices and are saying so. People are sick of one murder after another⎼ and sick of coronavirus deaths. Of the stupidity, injustice, and malevolence. Of the racism institutionalized into a political, economic and social system that is at the center of the malignancy that is splitting open this nation. Justice for this murder might lead to justice for other murders and abuses of government power. And then the rule of law and the civil rights protected in the constitution will be protected in the streets, the courts, and the Congress.

 

And inside the anger there are tears. When everyone took a knee at a demonstration  yesterday protesting the death of George Floyd, the sadness over his death, over so many lives taken, suddenly hit me, hit everyone. But instead of crying I write this.

 

Only voices united in opposition can reveal and expel that malignancy and create the social and legal situation where a guilty verdict against police is possible. In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the Lincoln Memorial about “the real promises of democracy.” He said, “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.” He spoke of his hope. His dream. It is illustrative of this moment that DT has stationed troops at the Lincoln Memorial to drive away the hope and the dream. He won’t succeed.

 

So, after the fear, anger, and outrage⎼ and the sadness⎼ the hope shyly follows.

 

*This post has been syndicated by The Good Men Project.

 

*The photo is from Gary Bercow.

Celebrating the Differences

On this day celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., it is important to remember not only the need to fight those who teach hate but to support those who model love. Remembering that we have had powerful leaders in the past who worked successfully to make the world a better place for all of us gives me hope that there will be such leaders again in the near future, and in fact are here, now.

 

One of my favorite quotes of King’s was one that echoes the Buddha and Gandhi, among others: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

 

King was not a perfect person. But there are no “perfect” people. We might feel the pressure, both from ourselves and others, to think we should be perfect. Or that if we aren’t perfect, how could we demand ethical behavior, clarity of thinking, or compassion from politicians? But what King fought for and the fact that he fought is inspirational.

 

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

 

We might think that those who are already social and political leaders must be either absolute saints or absolute sinners. We often want myths, not reality. It can be difficult to admire someone without mythologizing them.

 

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”

 

For example, some people of faith think the rich and powerful are favored by God, and so truth is what erupts from their leader’s mouth. However, when we think of our leaders as greater than us, greater than life, it’s too easy to ignore who they are or what they aim to do. The more real, the more human a leader is, the more we can learn from them. Instead of making a leader greater than us, we need to make ourselves into leaders, or at least informed citizens. We need to learn to examine the implications of policy proposals to determine as best we can what kind of world any leader would create.

 

“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

 

Do we want to “make America great again?” What does ‘great’ mean to T or his followers? From a study of T’s actions, we can see that he is trying to undermine democracy. His aim is to bring our nation back to a time before the Bill of Rights, before the constitution, maybe before the revolution. He wants a nation without a free press, without voting or civil rights, without a balance of powers between different branches of government, and with one-man rule. Or maybe he’s trying for something even worse, a white nationalist kleptocracy in which the rich are not controlled by laws but assume total power over the laws ⎼ something that didn’t even exist here 300 years ago.

 

“Every man must decide if he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the utter darkness of destructive selfishness.”

 

In 1947, in the Morehouse College student newspaper, Martin Luther King wrote: “If we are not careful, our colleagues will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts.” And this is what the Presidency is now teaching. T, along with his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is trying to replace education with propaganda,  public schools with private, a commitment to improving equity and protecting student’s rights and safety with a focus on producing workers desperate for income, open inquiry with religious centered mind-control.

 

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

 

We must not say: “This is awful but does not affect me directly. This is an assault on democracy and this is unjust, but I can live with it.”

 

Instead, we must be aware that: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

 

This is what, and whom, we celebrate today.

 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

 

 

 

*The photo of is of a wall painting of Martin Luther King Jr., in Lake Worth, Florida.