Civil Unrest: Getting Behind It All
I want to begin by saying I know this post may be difficult for some folks. My encouragement is to simply make it through the whole post, sit with it, and pray on it before you get offended.
I want to talk about all of the videos you've seen released in the last weeks from protests, riots, and demonstrations in downtown Chicago. I've waited to post this until now because the initial shock and emotions surrounding those first weekends of unrest have settled enough that I trust you, my readers, to hear me out. Complex emotions often make listening well, difficult.
It is easy to say, "There is no excuse for damaging someone else's property." It is easy to say, "Rioting accomplishes nothing." It is easy to say, "Two wrongs don't make a right" or "This compromises the message of the protestors" or "Stealing is a sin and therefore this is evil". What is far harder to say, and I believe what we should say, is nothing at all...
As I've seen the videos released and subsequently the news anchors from every network and politicians on both sides of the aisle win their easy points by condemning the actions of those who perpetrated the destruction, I was struck by the supreme lack of humility. Perhaps the only reason I wasn't nodding along with the commentators was because my pastor, Phil. He modeled humility that was missing in the wake of the initial George Floyd unrest by saying,
"If someone killed my child after systemically oppressing my community for hundreds of years, I would hope I wouldn't resort to violence and looting but, honestly I don't know what I would do."
That stuck with me.
The truth is, I have realized that I have no way of knowing the pain of West Side and South Side Communities that have been disenfranchised since the great migration. I have no idea of what I would do if the only businesses in my community were gas stations and corner stores owned by people outside my community and therefore every dollar spent left never to be seen again. I don't know what it is like to live in a jobs dessert. I have no idea how I would view police if the primary roll of police in my community was to raid and arrest rather than serve and protect. I have no idea of what it is like to lose friends, children, brothers, sisters, and community leaders to gun violence, sometimes perpetrated by civil servants. I don't know what it is like to have my tax dollars leave my neighborhood to fund a computer lab at a charter school my children likely cannot attend or a road repaving project in a shopping district I cannot afford. I don't know what it is like to have to listen to a regular national dialogues about how broken my community is or whether it's been sufficiently long enough since legalized slavery or government sponsored discrimination to pretend it never happened.
I don't know because my experience had been privileged enough to not worry about those things. Instead of wondering whether my son is old enough to be a perceived threat, which parks have safe enough, intact, playground equipment, or which decimated school to send him to; I worry about whether we have enough yogurt and carrots for a healthy lunch. And if I don't, no big deal. Unlike those communities, I have three grocery stores within a mile.
When we consider the age old question "What Would Jesus Do?" we should consider that Jesus often identifies systemic issues within communities before judging those communities. Specifically in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus never takes the bait of saying the popular thing to win easy points; instead He frequently listens, heals, and loves. As Christians, this has to be our first instinct too.
So instead of saying the easy things to say, I am choosing to say "I'm sorry. I don't understand." And when that's not helpful, I choose to say nothing at all.