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waters rolling down like justice

You may have a hard time understanding being so angry that you destroy other people’s property—and maybe even the businesses in your own neighborhood. My husband’s family owns a commercial property and we certainly don’t have the means to just replace that property and the business within it. Like many others during this time of COVID-19, we know that there is no proof that the business will make it through these uncertain days. We don’t deserve to be harmed in additional ways because someone else did something wrong.

Man, do we take umbrage when we think of being falsely thrown into any accusation of the bad behaviors of others—whether we’re business owners, working in law enforcement, or just people on the street. We shouldn’t have to suffer for the sins of others.

But as that is true for us, it is too late for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

Over 28 years ago, large and pregnant, I fretted about bringing my son and daughter into that particular time. It seemed as if all of Los Angeles were burning after four officers were acquitted of committing brutality on Rodney King. As I recently explained to my soon-to-be 28-year-old daughter, the Rodney King case was such a flashpoint because the fairly new accessibility of personal video recording devices had allowed that brutality to be captured and released into the world’s collective consciousness.

Was such injustice new? No. Were such riots new? No. What was new was that those of us far from those circumstances and happenings now had a better chance of understanding that justice was often being served unevenly.

And yet, here we are 28 years later, video after video after video released to the world, and many moms who were pregnant when I was have had to bury their children.

There is always the chatter. What were they doing to cause this? Why weren’t they respectful to the officers? Look at the crimes they have committed before. If they’re innocent, why did they resist or run? And then when other people get angry at their deaths, it’s statements such as this behavior delegitimizes their cause. There is no excuse for property destruction—or it’s only an excuse to get free stuff. And then let’s get super angry that football players kneel—of all “offensive” actions they could take—because they think that sometimes black people are served up vigilante “justice” instead of the promise inherent in our “Star Spangled Banner.”

Well, first of all, we’re supposed to have a justice system in this country that doesn’t put decisions in the hands of those who are arresting people. We don’t convict people for how they have acted in the past. We are to base our judgment only on the particular crime for which they are charged. For crimes of note, our citizens are due a trial with a judge and a jury of their peers. And—we don’t execute people on the spot for even legitimate misdemeanors or felonies. We require a series of steps before we condemn people to death. Because death is the ultimate penalty—it cannot be undone.

Beyond all the injustice we’ve watched occur in real time again and again, the feeling of impotence in these times is growing for many. It seems as if there is no legal recourse for disagreements. When the GAO points out that proposed tax changes will increase the deficit and harm the earners at the bottom and in the middle, put it through. When the public outcry on changes to SNAP and school food programs is overwhelming, let the FDA do whatever it was going to do anyway. When people armed to their teeth overrun the state houses and put up effigies of leaders, support their right to “liberate” their governments and let them stand without official resistance. Every legitimate channel for effecting change appears to becoming less about “We the People” and more about the people who are in charge now.

I could go on and on providing examples of disheartening policy changes and actions—and I am only listing a few of the grievances that have occurred with this Trump administration in leadership. If I feel threatened when our nation’s leader is retweeting statements that say “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” (a statement that hearkens to a common sentiment in taking these lands—“the only good Indian is a dead Indian”), imagine how much more a person of color feels that.

Continued similar dog whistles come from the White House—“when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons,” calling white extremists“ very fine people.

If we want to be judged on the content of our character, why are we surprised that others want the same thing?

In his poem Harlem, Langston Hughes asked what happened to a dream deferred—and finished the poem with “Or does it explode?

Why shouldn’t people of color be angry?

The question is, why aren’t more of us angry for them?

Until we turn our anger to systemic racism and do something about it, let’s stop clucking about the violence and destruction. Demand that our leaders lead toward making this a nation for all its people–or vote them out. There’s a difference between people who still are working on increasing their awareness and those who actively don’t care that some of God’s children aren’t even offered the crumbs from this nation’s tables.

(c) 2014 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2014 Sherman Lambert

For the last few months before I gave birth to my children—twins who would arrive in the beginning of June—our weather was unseasonably warm here in Colorado. But in California the world was on fire, but not due to wildfires or droughts. Los Angeles had erupted over the news that four white cops had been acquitted of beating Rodney King—a beating that had been videotaped and released to the media—in the previous year. In many ways, the King video was the introduction to a whole new populist way of promoting social justice even as it also promoted social unrest. People no longer needed to rely on journalists witnessing events for news to be shared all over the world.

Still, people only see what they want to see. Some people saw a person who broke the law and thus really didn’t have the right to complain while others saw a man who had broken the law but who in no way had done anything to bring on the type of violence he received. And in the aftermath, some people could only see the black men who beat the white truck driver—for no particular reason—at the same time they could not see the white men in positions of authority who had severely beaten a black man—for no particular reason.

Look, I personally am going to claim my own white privilege here because throughout my life I have discovered more and more situations I never had to experience, simply based upon the color of my skin. And growing up where I did, first in rural Nebraska and later in a larger town still fairly removed from the race relations found in urban centers, everything about race was pretty theoretical to me. However, as my awareness grew, I tried to root out more of my own inherent racism, especially as I was shocked to discover it in more blatant forms in others whom I generally respected.

Then I went off to my seemingly ivory tower college in Ohio where one of my first actions was to fall in love with an incredible man who happened to be black and not of any privileged background at all—lest you count his close-knit family and his faith tradition, which he did. So many of the things he told me of race relations were new to me, yet he was a peacemaker who got along with all types of people, even most of his roughest (white) football teammates. Still, at that ivory tower, we didn’t really experience any pushback from our being together.

If my life had followed the course I had wanted at that time I would be the mother of biracial children and the spouse of someone outside my race, so I can never really view race relations as theoretical anymore. And though he has long been dead, I tend to think of how certain racial situations would affect him—not as the minor lawbreaker some of these young men have been, but as a law-abiding citizen under suspicion for no other reason than because of his race.

A few years after the riots in California, another law-abiding citizen we know experienced what I see all sorts of people (white) on Facebook denouncing as either a myth or inconsequential: racial profiling by law enforcement. The young man who was my husband’s assistant came from Chicago but I think even he was lulled into thinking these sorts of things didn’t really happen that often in Denver. One day he received his paycheck and—clothed in dress pants and a good shirt with no tie—went straight to the grocery store to cash his whole paycheck. Then, with all that money in his pocket, he stopped off at the liquor store before heading home. As he drove away on a major street, flashing lights appeared behind him. He pulled over and was dragged out of his vehicle and thrown roughly to the ground in the broad daylight of an early summer’s evening. The fact he matched some vague description of someone they were seeking and the fact he had a large sum of money on his body meant he was treated with great suspicion—and when I say suspicion, I think most of the questioning was meted out with brute force and intimidation. Somehow he finally convinced them to listen but not before he was reminded that he was indeed a black man and that his education and intent and actions really didn’t matter first in his dealings with law enforcement.

Little by little the veneer of believing that my experience is no different than that of someone of another race has been stripped from me—and my knowledge of what’s on the Internet has undone my initial beliefs even faster. I have to acknowledge that racism is much greater than I knew if even white, suburban, privileged high school boys can feel comfortable saying what they said the night President Obama was first elected.

See, part of the point is my white privilege really has allowed me not to know or experience certain things. But once we see and hear those things with our own eyes and ears, how can we still not believe?

Since when do we in the United States say it’s OK to kill people for shoplifting or selling illegal cigarettes or being disrespectful to authority? We have a justice system where people should be charged for the crimes of which they are accused, and only after the proper following of procedures and once those people are determined guilty of those charges can they be convicted. These truths should be true whether or not you are rich or poor or connected or not or black or white or a general scumbag or not. In this country none of us is supposed to be judge, jury, and executioner—not even law enforcement officials. Let justice roll down like water—not fire.

I don’t condone looting and burning, but can you understand just a little bit of the rage of never, ever being seen for who you are and what you do, no matter what? No, in some ways I can’t at all understand it because that shoe is usually not on my foot.

But I’m trying—and will continue to do so the rest of my days. I had expected to bring my own children into a better world than the one that turned out to be burning in the weeks before their births. Nonetheless, I am so proud they have grown to be people who really do judge others by the color of their characters, not by the color of their faces. Those of us who do “see” must join together in that ever-flowing stream of mighty righteousness, workers for justice striving to quench these fires. Let justice roll down—indeed.

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