I talk about politics on Facebook a lot. Sometimes I think maybe too much. I’m trying to be a spiritual person, but I cannot separate faith from politics. While I’m a staunch believer in a secular government, I cannot separate my political leanings from what I believe about spirituality and humanity. As a black man, race and racism have been shoved down my throat by my society for 55 years. I tried to ignore it for the first 25 years of my life. I hate it. It’s stupid. There is one race, the human race. That is one level of ontological reality, but at another level, as long as we perceive ourselves as separate races, functionally we are so. I’m a black man because that’s how I’m perceived. The last few weeks and months have seemed to be particularly stressful to many of us. Terrorist bombings, people killed by the cops, cops killed by mad men. Summer is half way over and many just want to take a break.
In the last three days I’ve had one friend announce on Facebook that, if you support Black Lives Matter, you should just unfriend her now. So, I did. Another friend announced she was taking a sabbatical from Facebook. I’ve checked in with both and wished them the best. Both of these friends have family and friends in law enforcement. The tenor of the conversation between law enforcement supporters and supporters of people who have died at the hands of police has gotten to be too much for them. Today, I had another friend tell me that she thinks I have “lost my mind” and that I’m being unkind on Facebook lately. Whenever someone tells me something like that I take it very seriously. I didn’t get defensive. I asked her if she could give me specific examples of how I have been unkind. Her comment was on a thread where I was poking fun at Melania Trump’s plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s speech, but I honestly was just having a good laugh at the Trump fiasco of a convention. But, this friend wasn’t the first friend this week to tell me I needed to back off. Someone else commented on a post I made about the killers of Freddie Gray getting away with his death. The third officer to be accused has been acquitted. This healthy young man gets into the back of a police van and ends up with a broken spine and dead. The coroner rules it a homicide and no one is going to be held accountable. And I’m told to hold my tongue because the nation is mourning.
So, I ask myself “What’s changed?” Have my posts changed? Has my tone changed? I don’t think so. Are there more of these cases? Nope. There have been plenty during the years I’ve been posting. What’s changed? What’s changed is that people who were not paying attention before are paying attention now. What I’ve realized is the things that get to us, the things that really trigger empathy in us and that touch us emotionally are things that happen to us personally or to those we can identify with. Then, it hits me.
I identify with Freddie Gray and John Crawford and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. We don’t have a lot in common- I’m not from the inner city. I don’t have an arrest record. I’ve had very few interactions with the police. I’ve never been arrested. What we do have in common is that we are human beings though and I don’t like to see any human being treated unfairly. And, we’re all black men. There there is the Indian man who was permanently injured by the police officer in Alabama, because he had the audacity to walk the streets of his son’s neighborhood and not have command of the English language. That upset me just as much. The man who was killed because someone called 911 and reported he had a rifle and was murdered by a cop who demanded he crawl toward him while the guy cried “Please don’t shoot me.” That upset me just as much. What many fail to understand is the frustrating thing isn’t that cops kill people. That’s going to happen. There are some bad cops and mistakes get made. The frustrating is the lack of justice. Black Lives Matter has to exist, not because black people are dying at the hands of cops but because the justice system doesn’t seem to care. This takes its toll on those of us who are paying attention and who identify with these people.
For many, anyone who dies at the hands of a cop is just an unfortunate incidence. They really don’t identify with it. They read about it and they move on. But, when a cop is killed. That they can identify with. The cop is their protector. They love the cops. Oh sure, a few get carried away and they rough up a criminal every once in a while. Maybe they even kill one. But, the guy was a criminal after all. If you don’t want to get killed, don’t resist arrest. Don’t break the law. The officers murdered by mad men in Dallas and Baton Rouge have them upset. Now they see it as all out war. They can’t take any more. Two incidents in two weeks and they’re undone.
Newsflash. I identify with the cops, too. They are human beings. Their families suffer just as much as the families of Freddie Gray and Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. They were good men doing their jobs, unjustly profiled and murdered in cold blood. Their killers are despicable. The difference though is when you kill a cop, you die or you go to jail. Sure, Blue Lives Matter. Everybody knows that. Most importantly, the justice system knows that. The cop killings are exhausting to me, too.
The difference is this isn’t news to me. This is the world I have lived in for my entire life. I was listening to Michael Jackson this morning- They Don’t Care About Us from 1995 and We’ve Had Enough from 2004. Then there’s Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On from 1971 None of this is new. All of these songs are blowing up in views on YouTube right now. Some of us have the privilege of being able to ignore it for most of the time. Others of us, not so much.
To my friends getting burned out on my ranting and raving. I offer my sincere apologies. But, whenever someone tells me to back off, two things come to mind. 1.) The gospel is intended to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable (it was originally said of the role of a newspaper) and 2.) Nick Lowe said that sometimes you gotta be cruel to be kind.