Friday, June 12, 2020

Black Lives Matter and Police Brutality is a Problem

I know that these thoughts are obvious to many, but also politically charged and anger-inducing for others. I hope my thoughts can be helpful to all, but particularly helpful to this latter group. 

It took me ten days to watch the killing of George Floyd. When I first heard about it and knew there was a video, I avoided it because I thought that I'd rather not watch someone die. What good would it do? But I soon begin to realize that I was de-sensitized to the stories of this kind of violence, especially directed toward black men and women, so I finally watched it.

Even though I knew some of the details, I wasn't really prepared to see what I saw. Sadness and anger welled up inside me as I watched a helpless man slowly suffocate from the knee of someone who is meant to protect this country's citizens. And the sadness and anger increased as I saw how this moment was a microcosm of how white men in power have consistently abused and destroyed black bodies in this country for the last four centuries.

I'm grieved as I hear and read stories from strangers and friends, black men and women across the country, that speak about how they've been mistreated by police, looked at as dangerous by others, and live with daily fear. These stories remind us that police brutality and mistreatment is so much more pervasive than the few instances of it that happen to be caught on video.

Because of this, I'm not surprised by the protests and the swell of energy that these recent black deaths have brought about. What other response could there be? Silence? Politely saying (again) that this is wrong and that something needs to change? As Bryan Stevenson (author of Just Mercy) recently said, the anger showing up around the country is "not just anger over what happened to George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery. It is anger about continuing to live in a world where there is this presumption of dangerousness and guilt wherever you go."

I'm deeply grateful for what seems like another, sorely needed, tipping point in this conversation. I'm encouraged to see some have had their eyes opened for the first time about the history of racial injustice and I'm also encouraged to see that there are policies, like 8 Can't Wait, being discussed and acted on as ways to tangibly move away from the systems that continue to allow for police brutality and racial injustice. I hope this energy continues in the months, years, and generations to come. And I hope I can be a part of the solution for continued reform.

I'm indebted to many voices over the years that have written and spoken about racial injustice and for others who have pointed out these voices to me. For those of you wanting to grow in your understanding of this topic, I highly recommend any of the below resources as they have all significantly shaped my thinking.

  • Letter from a Birmingham Jail (MLK Jr., 1963) - It is shocking how relevant MLK Jr.'s thoughts still are today.
  • Just Mercy (Stevenson, 2014) - No book has stirred me more on racial injustice issues than this one. From death row to juvenile facilities, Bryan Stevenson gets the reader close to the stories of how injustice is prevailing within our justice system and "how we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us."
  • Stamped from the Beginning (Kendi, 2017) - the best history I've read that summarizes the consistent examples of violence, injustice, and inequality directed against black people in this country. Dr. Kendi shows that from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration up through today, racial discrimination has always led to racial policies which has always led to ignorance and hate, not the other way around.
  • The Warmth of Other Suns (Wilkerson, 2011) - A captivating account of the migration of 6 million black southerners to the North, from 1915 to 1970, detailing the incredible amount of mistreatment and inequality black people were facing in the Jim Crow South.
  • Between the World and Me (Coates, 2015) - Written as a letter to his son, Coates talks about the preciousness of the black body and how many will try to abuse and destroy it.
  • The New Jim Crow (Alexander, 2010) - Argues how the War on Drugs was the impetus for the systematic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States.
  • The Hidden Wound (Berry, 1970) - Agrarian thinker Wendell Berry wrestles with his family history of owning slaves. He argues how the white community has received a hidden would from their injustices toward the black community and this wound needs to be looked at and talked about in order for the destruction of it to wane.


Finally, here are some recent resources I've found helpful:

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