About a month ago, on a Friday night, I drove to my friend Karen’s apartment and we car-pooled down to an elementary school in Oak Cliff, which is a neighborhood in south Dallas where several unarmed black men have been shot by Dallas police. We were responding to a facebook invite that we had gotten to participate in a “March Against Police Brutality”. It started raining on the way and we joked that we might be “fair weather” protesters, but we found our way there, along with about 20 other scrappy people who didn’t let the weather sway them.
This protest was the first of its kind. Bigger protests had happened just a week before in downtown Dallas. This particular protest was a pilgrimage of sorts, a march to the apartment complexes where two specific unarmed men had been shot by police. It’s the first time a group has actually marched in the neighborhoods where this kind of brutality is happening.
As we marched in a line over the broken sidewalks, through the trash-strewn yards, past dilapidated apartment complexes with children peeking from behind blankets hung over the windows, I felt a deep sense of sorrow. The unfairness of it all was too overwhelming for this privileged white girl from the ‘burbs.
I participated in some of the chants; some, like “Hands up, Don’t Shoot”, felt too sacred, too personal, for me to utter. The truth is that I will never have to say those words. I was marching among people who live that reality and must practice those words far too often. They teach them to their children when they are still very young. It’s not overreacting. It’s reality.
As we marched, neighbors came out on the porches. Cars honked in support. As we marched through the intersections, black men hung out of their cars with their hands up. At one particular intersection, cars in all four directions were honking and shouting in solidarity. I had to take deep breaths so I didn’t burst into tears. For me, it was a powerful expression of a group of people coming together to lament a very real injustice.
It is one thing to post about injustice online; it’s quite another to be among the people who are being treated unjustly.
One of the leaders was a young black woman who was running for city council (the election was the very next day). If she had been elected, she would have been the youngest city councilor ever elected. As we marched and people watched, Keyaira would yell to them, “Join us! We’re marching for YOU!” Only a few did. She mentioned that many were likely afraid of participating because there were about six cop cars following our rag-tag group of 20 protesters. (The protest had it’s own security team that was keeping tabs on the group. They were not there to protect us from the neighbors, but the police. It saddened me that there was even a need for that.)
No one at that protest believes that all police are bad. I’m not going to lie. It frustrates me that people treat this whole matter as a zero sum game. Either “Black Lives Matter” or “Police Lives Matter”. Why can’t it be both? All lives can matter.
All lives do matter.
Isn’t everyone, including police officers, disturbed by what happened in McKinney on Saturday? Don’t the hearts of all mothers break when they hear about Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was playing with a pellet gun and who was shot dead within seconds of police arriving at the scene? If my son decides to sell cigarettes on a street corner without paying taxes or own a switchblade or struggles with mental illness, would it be okay with me if he was killed for those things?
It’s not okay.
It’s not okay, because even if he does do those things or worse, his life still matters. It matters to me. It matters to his friends. It matters to God.
I understand that police officers have difficult jobs. They have to assess dangerous situations in milliseconds and make serious decisions that affect peoples’ lives. I do not envy them.
It is undeniable that there is a problem. If you listen to what the black community is saying, they are saying there is a systematic problem, where even good cops are pressured and primed to respond to different people in different ways. At every level in the justice system, people of color are treated more harshly than white people. When we run and hide behind the #policelivesmatter, instead of admitting that, yes, there is an issue, then nothing gets fixed. (Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, lays out what systematic racism looks like so clearly that you cannot ignore it. Seriously, if you don’t understand what people mean by systemic racism, please get this book and read it. She lays it out so clearly and backs up everything with scads of data.)
I have been praying and pondering on how Jesus would deal with racial inequality, injustice, and police brutality. As Shane Claiborne points out in Jesus for President, Jesus never really bothered with Rome. He never went to the political leaders to protest on behalf of the Jews. He always turned what we “thought” he should do on its head. The Jews expected him to come riding up on a giant steed with a giant sword to slay the Roman overlords, but He didn’t. He walked humbly. He created an alternative kingdom that looked more like heaven than earth.
I don’t know how to bring the kingdom of heaven into this situation. I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know what the solution is.
But I do know that something needs to change.
(If you’re in the Dallas area and want to stay up-to-date with what local community organizing groups are doing, you can follow Dallas Communities Organizing for Change, Next Generation Action Network, or Dallas Faces Race. Statewide, there is the Texas Organizing Project. Colorlines is an independent news site that reports on social justice issues (including race) and is produced by and for people of color.)