Today, I am writing to figure out what I think, what I feel, and what I believe. My favorite author, Flannery O’Connor wrote in a 1948 letter,
I have to write to discover what I am doing. Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again.The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, ed. by Sally Fitzgerald. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1988, p. 5.
Today, I’m trying to discover what I know about the violence that has erupted around our nation. Less than a week ago, George Floyd died as a result of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Other police officers stood by while Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck with his hands in his pockets, according to photographs of the incident. Chauvin and three other officers were fired from the police department, and Chauvin was charged with manslaughter on Friday, May 29th. As a reaction to the unnecessary death of Floyd, protests have erupted throughout the nation, many of them starting peacefully but ending violently.
What I know is that businesses have been destroyed, goods have been stolen, and lives have been lost. The news has been showing footage this morning from all over the nation of small businesses destroyed and fire damage throughout large cities in our country. My Facebook feed was filled this morning with posts from my family and friends in Long Beach and Lakewood, CA.
“The looting has hit our town. It’s here.”
“They’re here. Our city is getting rioted as I type.”
“Looters at the Long Beach Town Center.”
“Family and friends – things did get close last night. It was pretty loud, but we remain safe.”
What I don’t know is who is responsible for the violence that has been sparked throughout the nation. As I spoke to my mother yesterday in Colorado, she told me that my brother in Minnesota said that the Klan is in Minnesota. Sadly, the Klan has been present throughout our nation for over a hundred years. What my brother meant is that the Klan has made itself visible. They’re not hiding. Just like they didn’t hide in 2017 when the Unite the Right demonstration hit Charlottesville, VA.
People are getting wise to the fact that the violence and property damage has been sparked by others infiltrating peaceful protests. These others are reportedly from the alt-right and the alt-left. Some have been hired as demonstrators by organizations like Crowds on Demand (check it out; people really get hired to participate in rallies and protests). This isn’t new. This has been going on for decades. My mother just told me yesterday that a distant family member used to travel the country during the Civil Rights movement, inciting violence in the peaceful protests.
In a recent article from Psychology Today, Dr. Joseph Pierre stated:
As we react and comment on the public response to the murder of George Floyd, we should take care to avoid lumping rioting and rioters and looting and looters together with protest and protesters, as if they’re necessarily the same thing or the same people. Although it has been argued that non-violent protesting, rioting, and even looting are points on a continuum of political revolt, often aimless violence and looting represents the opportunistic exploitation of chaos and lawlessness. New information from around the country suggests that some of the most unruly behavior might be perpetrated by those with their own agendas, distinct from the protesters.Pierre, Joseph M. “The Psychology of Rioting: The Language of the Unheard.” Psychology Today, 30 May 2020. Electronically accessed at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psych-unseen/202005/the-psychology-rioting-the-language-the-unheard.
There is no doubt in my mind that there is a need in our nation for a hard look at the racism that has infected our nation since before its inception. Many do not know, but in the original version of the Declaration of Independence, one of Jefferson’s grievances was against slavery. He wrote,
he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.“Jefferson’s ‘Original Rough Draft’ of the Declaration of Independence.” From the Library of Congress, found at https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/declara/ruffdrft.html.
It is possible that our nation may have started with a clear stance against slavery; however, Jefferson himself acknowledged years after the Declaration was signed that the words were
“struck out in complaisance to South Carolina & Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves”Kelley, Peter. “Documents that Changed the World: The Declaration of Independence’s deleted passage on slavery, 1776.” University of Washington. Electronically accessed at https://www.washington.edu/news/2016/02/25/documents-that-changed-the-world-the-declaration-of-independences-deleted-passage-on-slavery-1776/.
So, here we are over one hundred and fifty years since the Emancipation Proclamation, and we are still trying to put bandages on gaping wounds of race relations in our nation.
In a lesser known speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Other America,” he speaks about the psychology of looting and rioting in America. Recently, I have seen memes that have addressed Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance, claiming that he did not support violence. These memes also suggest that the Civil Rights movement was successful. King discredits these assumptions in several ways in his speech, given at Stanford University in 1967.
Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve. That in a real sense it is impracticable for the Negro to even think of mounting a violent revolution in the United States. So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way.
But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.King, Martin Luther. “The Other America.” Electronically accessed at https://www.crmvet.org/docs/otheram.htm.
Dr. King’s words are still relevant today, over fifty years after he gave this condemning speech. Many of us may think that because so many years have passed since the Emancipation Proclamation, and so many years have passed since the end of Jim Crow, and so many years have passed since the Civil Rights Act that racism is dead in America. However, King addresses the passage of time as well. He asserts
We’ve got to get rid of one or two false notions that continue to exist in our society. One is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. I’m sure you’ve heard this idea. It is the notion almost that there is something in the very flow of time that will miraculously cure all evils. And I’ve heard this over and over again. There are those, and they are often sincere people, who say to Negroes and their allies in the white community, that we should slow up and just be nice and patient and continue to pray, and in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out because only time can solve the problem.
Somewhere we must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals. And without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must help time, and we must realize that the time is always right to do right.King, Martin Luther. “The Other America.” Electronically accessed at https://www.crmvet.org/docs/otheram.htm.
Here we are today, preparing for another night of looting, rioting, and protests that will end with more property damage, more goods stolen, and potentially more lives lost. Here we are today, with no real words of unity or hope from our current president. Here we are today, wondering when things will get back to normal, since we are still dealing with social distancing and COVID-19. Here we are today, hopefully coming together to show love and understanding toward others rather than attacking those who are demonstrating peacefully.
And we still have an important lesson to learn while some whites try to tell people of color how to protest. And we still have an important lesson to learn while some whites don’t understand why these protests even started. And we still have an important lesson to learn while some whites have misquoted and misrepresented Dr. King. I’ll let him speak for me because his words are much better than mine:
It is necessary for us to realize more than ever before, that the destinies of the Negro and the white man are tied together. Now there are still a lot of people who don’t realize this. The racists still don’t realize this. But it is a fact now that Negroes and whites are tied together, and we need each other. The Negro needs the white man to save him from his fear. The white man needs the Negro to save him from his guilt. We are tied together in so many ways, our language, our music, our cultural patterns, our material prosperity, and even our food are an amalgam of black and white.King, Martin Luther. “The Other America.” Electronically accessed at https://www.crmvet.org/docs/otheram.htm.
Let’s stop trying to put a bandage on this gaping wound. Let’s start talking and reaching out. Let’s understand that in order to move forward, we have to join hands.