Empathizing through the plights of progression

“Raise Up” by Hank Willis Thomas. Installation for Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, AL

My heart breaks for the black community. It’s been hard for me to put my thoughts together, mostly because I understand that we’ve let it get to this point, and I know many police officers who are nothing like the officers that killed George Floyd. But alas, although the individual can be good, the system surrounding it also has to demand it while providing just consequences for the ones that are not. 

When the black community knelt in peaceful protest, they were ignored again and again. What else can the oppressed do? (Foolproof recommendations are completely welcome. I’ll wait.) With all the protests going on, I think of this quote from James Baldwin on being black in America, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost all of the time.” It reminds me of all the times I’ve been called a chink in Orange County, and how someone uttering that word – all which takes a split second – ruined my whole entire week. I remember feeling the rage and suppressing it into clenched jaws. Even the subtler, unintended jabs like “Why does kimchi smell so weird? You guys eat some interesting food” has the capacity to gnaw at me for days on end. That, compared to what black people in America have gone through their whole lives, is a drop in the bucket. Can you imagine the lifetime of stereotypes, stigmas, and brutality that black people face in America? I can’t. But it’s probably safe to say that the word “angry” wouldn’t be able to do that feeling justice.

I want to share how I feel as a woman of color who believes black lives matter, who demands justice and reconciliation for George Floyd and other victims of police brutality, and who loves and supports the good police officers who truly do their best to protect and serve their community. Here are my feelings, they’re neither right or wrong, they just are. 

When I see the protests, I feel so many things. I feel relieved and grateful that people of all colors are uniting to help black brothers and sisters. I feel so grateful for some of the city leadership and police departments that are at least trying — opening up dialogue, kneeling in solidarity, hearing the cries of the protesters versus trying to extinguish them. I pray this can continue. Although it seems like these types of communities are in the minority, I’m grateful to see all but a peek into progress.

When I see storefront casualties of small local businesses, I also think of my parent’s small business. I feel worried. Their business is their livelihood. It’s what helped put a roof over my family’s head, it’s what helped all my siblings get an education. To see it get hit with sheltering in place, well, burning it down to the ground would be quite symbolically the final blow. Are the small business owners that lost their business the unlucky ones? I truly hope not, and I pray that they find peace.

When I see protesters defending storefronts from destruction, I feel in awe. They’re protecting their narrative, taking back control of the story that needs to be told and I’m absolutely blown away by the grace and courage that these brave people demonstrate. 

When I see law enforcement raining rubber bullets on non-violent protesters, I feel disturbed, confused, and furious. I ask, who are you protecting and serving and how would you prefer them to effectively exercise their right to the First Amendment?

When I see law enforcement getting bottles thrown at them I think of loved ones who are also police officers. I want them to continue to be a light onto the community. I don’t want the good ones to get jaded. I want them to continue to be compassionate to the community. Really, I feel sad that the actions of others (and lack of action from leaders) are going to make it more difficult for the good ones to keep serving and protecting their community. 

When I see people, especially Christians, regurgitating “All Lives Matter” I feel disheartened. The lack of compassion and empathy feels distant and contradictory to the Christ-like qualities and morals that are taught. I’ve been seeing reference to the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:4 Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?), and although not quite hitting the nail perfectly on the head as a parallel to the BLM movement, it helps paint a picture. “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, one just comes first before you achieve the latter. I think the gist of it is to focus on the parts that are broken. Because shouldn’t you rather focus on the lost sheep (or in this case, the sheep that was mistreated, got less resources, probably didn’t even get a map like all the other sheep) before you tend to the other ninety-nine? 

And lastly, I feel exasperated with this country’s disillusioned leaders. I’m still waiting for a reason as to why all the officers involved in George Floyd’s murder are not arrested. And why would you, our country’s leaders, prefer a country divided and burned to the ground than to one that reconciles with justice?

I believe that George Floyd and many others were killed unnecessarily because of police brutality and that justice is still waiting for its day. I believe we should support police officers with more resources around de-escalation and community engagement. I believe that systemically, agencies in the U.S. are not equipped or encouraged to filter out officers that do not protect and serve without bias or discrimination.

——

Edit (June 4): We’re seeing glimpses of progress with the arrests of the other three officers yesterday and I am feeling hopeful. It’s chapter one of a long long story, but at least the pages are being written. I hope we can give other victims of police brutality and bias the redemptive justice they deserve. We must tell the world that there is no place for white supremacy and social injustice.

Many police officers around the world are showing us the system is broken with excessive brutality. We are also seeing something that was unfamiliar… officers stepping up as active allies for the black community. How powerful would it be to dialogue together on how to create a better system? How powerful to walk together in solidarity and together, extinguish the broken system that allows bad officers to get away with injustice? As law enforcement agencies proclaim their alliance to BLM, how compelling would it be to show the world the power of love and unity?

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