[Guest contributor Andrew Lewis is an educator in Palm Beach County, FL, and a family member of the publisher. This opinion piece originally appeared on his Facebook page and is transcribed here with his permission. Although PortsmouthCityWatch.org is focused on local issues, we found relevance in this posting to what is occurring in our hometown.]
“…and I’m just asking for other parts of our democracy, along with the free press, to help us; to help us, and not put that burden all on law enforcement to resolve.”
David Brown, Dallas Police Chief
We had five minutes before class ended, and the class had completed their work for the day. It was a block schedule day, so we had spent an hour and a half covering two lessons. Math is normally a “bell-to-bell” subject, but when they’ve worked hard, I try to reward them with some free time at the end to discuss whatever is on their minds. The Trevon Martin verdict had just come down, and many of them were overwhelmed with negative feelings about the trial, and there was also some discussion about the Confederate flag. I mostly just listened. In 16 years of teaching I’ve been involved in enough of these discussions that they kind of blend into each other, and I don’t remember most of what I might have said to this particular class on that particular day. The part that I remember with clarity is that, right before the bell rang, one of my students (a slightly heavy, quiet male) asked me what I thought about white pride. Some of the other students tensed-up, but I knew him well enough to know where he was coming from. He explained that whenever you hear the words “white pride”, it is associated with white supremacy, which he wanted no part of. Yet he was not ashamed of his heritage, and as he saw others taking pride in their cultures, he wondered aloud if there was a place for him to be proud of being white without being seen as racist. At this point the bell had rung, but nobody was leaving.
I explained to them that you should always take a measure of pride in your family background and culture because it is a major part of what makes you unique as an individual. Your family history, traditions, music, food, dress, and overall culture help to center and ground you, and that should always be a source of pride that you should pass on to your children. However, the problems come when I start to believe that the things that make me special make me better than you. God created us all in His likeness and image, and I believe that the different cultures all reflect His glory in different ways. Therefore, we can all learn something about God’s nature and character by stepping out of our comfort zones and learning things outside of our core. Like a ballerina can learn street dancing and become a better ballerina in the process. (There were several dancers in the class, so I went with an analogy I knew they would get.) Then I kicked them all out so they wouldn’t be late for their next class.
“Another insight, People of color aren’t asking for an apology. They are asking for acknowledgement of their reality. They are asking white people to wake up. To stop being unconscious, do the work to educate the white community and dismantle the system of racism so it does not oppress them any longer. Can anyone really say that is too much to ask?”
Gretchen Palmer, “An Open Letter from an Admitted Racist”
“The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job… If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you’d better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do.”
Jesse Williams, at the BET Awards
Communicating the anger and frustration that is felt isn’t as difficult as I first thought. While these are certainly dark emotions, they are not black emotions. In fact, they are very human emotions. If you can remember, for a moment, the absolute rage of the Goldman family when O.J. Simpson was acquitted. There is no consolation, no closure, for someone that had barely managed to deal with the grief of losing their daughter by holding onto the hope of seeing her murderer brought to justice. To then have that hope stolen by an apparently rigged system… Now imagine what the outcry would be if there were video footage of O.J. repeatedly stabbing Nicole Simpson. OK, now imagine what the public response would be if this happened 20 to 30 times in a five-year period. This is still not an apples-to-apples comparison, of course, because we still are not taking into account the history involved. Here is the question that I find myself struggling with. Has this problem gotten that much worse in recent years? Or has the recent abundance of readily available video recording devices shed a bright light on problems that have been with us all along? We only exacerbate the problem when we dismissively waive our hand and say “ALL LIVES MATTER, P-E-R-I-O-D!” But awareness of the problem is only the first step to solving it. Fortunately, once awareness happens, there are other solutions that readily present themselves.
“What we saw from Bob McCulloch tonight was a defense attorney presentation dressed up as a prosecutor presentation…. There is no question that Darren Wilson got special treatment.”
Lisa Bloom, NBC News Legal Analyst talking about the trial in Ferguson, MO.
One fairly obvious fix is to have an independent prosecutor automatically assigned to all cases involving possible police abuse. It makes no sense to assign any prosecutor whose livelihood depends on having, at the very least, a cordial relationship with the police force in question. All of the other solutions that are currently being discussed in the public forum are completely useless if the system itself is unbalanced. No amount of recruitment of ‘good people’ into the force; no amount of community outreach; no amount of teenager training for proper behavior when dealing with authority figures (by the way, these are all good things that need to happen as well). None of these measures can be any more helpful than a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound if people are allowed to commit murder with impunity.
One thing that gives me hope is that, for most of us, our heart responds the same way when we see a young man shot, as when we see a police officer shot. It surprised me when I realized that the grief and frustration that I felt watching all three of those tragic events last week was exactly the same. The only thing that was different was that in the Dallas tragedy, the shooter was killed, which at least provided some small sense of closure. If he hadn’t been killed, I have no doubt that he would have been tried and convicted quickly and gotten either a life sentence or the death penalty. If our hearts respond the same way to all three cases, then why shouldn’t the court system, which is, supposedly, in place to preserve the rule of law.
“At times, it seems like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates too quickly into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”
Former President George W. Bush, speaking at the Dallas Memorial Service
“We also know that what Chief Brown has said is true. That so much of the tensions between Police departments and the communities that they serve is because we ask the Police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves.”
President Barack Obama, speaking at the Dallas Memorial Service
Having an open and honest dialogue on matters of this nature requires more than just an ear that is willing to listen. If any progress is to be made, the tone of our conversation must change. It occurs to me that anyone who reads this believes that the “other side” is responsible for the current tone in our body politic. Democracy can be messy that way.
As a teacher, my default move is to try to put myself in the other person’s shoes and see things from their angle; and then try to get others to do the same. As a Christian, I try to see issues and arguments from God’s perspective. That’s not easy to do because we don’t always see the dross that exists in our own hearts. When purifying gold, you have to heat it up until the dross rises to the top so that it can be swept away. Then you cool it down and reheat it. This process is repeated over and over, and with each sweep, the gold becomes more pure. Perhaps the same can be said for our nation.
“Continually Jesus drew our attention not to loving people ‘in general’ but to specifically caring for those we would tend to discount or condemn. Black lives matter is exactly the kind of thing Jesus would say…. This is not an issue peripheral to the gospel, or a matter of a few isolated proof texts. It is at the very heart of Jesus’s ministry and mission.”
Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture