I suspect that many of you experienced the same cascade of emotions I have felt over as the past week (compounded by everything these last several months). First the virus and the need for personal isolation; now, an explosion of racial tension and its paroxysm of anger. It’s a lot to absorb! So much, that my spirit weeps and my soul cries. Perhaps, yours too?
I find the situation in Minneapolis particularly overwhelming because the composition of my family sensitizes me to the multiple factors contributing to the firestorm currently transpiring. You see, I have an African-American son-in-law, as well as a son in … law enforcement. Both express feelings of frustration with both the situation and the “system”. Both have had awful, and regrettable experiences as a result of color — skin and uniform. Both would like nothing more than the anger resonating from deeds of the past and assumptions in the present to ease. But even greater is the frustration resulting from the personal, often partisan positions that prevent people from talking honestly and taking responsibility for the problem, in order to achieve a resolution that can only better for all.
I don’t want anger or fear to foster my thinking and response. My entire life has been shaped by the childhood Sunday school song (apologies for the dated language):
Red and Yellow, Black and White
They are precious in God’s sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
Yet, here I am. Still, here we are. I do not know the protocol of the Minneapolis Police Department regarding what occurred and the decisions that must follow. I only know, from what I’ve seen, the death of George Floyd was egregious and unjustifiable. In addition, the officers who witnessed this, doing nothing, should also be held accountable. This is behavior I would expect to see from an autocratic Police State, not the United States. In my opinion, those officers became accomplices by watching and choosing to do nothing. Inaction is an action, and they should be held accountable. But if the system under which they operated, somehow allowed for something like this to occur, it too failed and should be placed on trial.
Does this tragedy warrant protests? I think so, as did the authors of our Constitution. It the right of every Americans to protest. This is inherent and necessary for democracy to work. By design, democracy depends on the airing of disagreements, peacefully. There is no excuse for randomly lighting fires, looting stores, destroying businesses that residents depend on, or indiscriminately attacking police officers. Violence only leads to more violence and fighting fire with fire, more ashes? However, I must add, when someone exercises their right to peacefully protest by kneeling (whether we agree or not) and is targeted as the problem, denying the real problem, I can see how things could escalate. No one likes to be dismissed, so when they are, what follows is usually unavoidably undeniable. It cannot be ignored or disregarded.
What am I saying? I am hoping to remind us of the complexity of these times. There are issues here of black and white that only sincere dialogue will resolve. But concurrent with that, we need to be clear in determining right from wrong, in black and white. Doctors tell us, it’s best to catch and treat cancer early, rather than late, greatly increasing our odds for survival. Hate and anger, deafness and disregard are symptoms of the cancer infecting our times. And here too, if ignored, will only metastasize.
So, let’s not jump to hasty conclusions, but pray for the willingness and wisdom to acknowledge, we have a problem. Then, own how we each contribute to this problem by what we do or don’t do. Thus keeping in our sights, the vision of our nation’s founders, that we might truly be a beacon of hope for all nations, a land of liberty and justice, for all.
Rev. Keith Haemmelmann