I have been sitting here thinking about the numerous demonstrations following the Grand Jury verdicts in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York. I was feeling my own anger welling up inside of me as I helplessly watched the riots and the vandalism occurring in real time on many of the television networks. If that were not enough I then read about the senseless murder of two innocent NYPD officers as they sat in their vehicles. The shooter turned out to be a black man with severe mental issues yet causing a huge reaction from cops around the country. More animosity began between the Mayor of NYC and organizations representing the cops. Even now the anger of protestors and the cops has caused a huge divide within city government. How can you call for calm when there is so much anger welling up inside of the NYPD and the community? How can a truce be forged out of this chaos and bickering?
I officiated the funeral of a fraternity brother who died at age 93. He was a distinguished law professor at the Howard University Law School. Testimony after testimony mostly from family members and former students could not say enough about their beloved professor. As I listened to these tributes I realized the professor’s career path had begun when America was deeply separate and not equal. Against all sorts of odds and barriers the professor forged ahead and did not allow a repressive and segregated system keep him from pursuing his goals and aspirations. I know several men and women like the professor whose contributions are well known throughout the country. These giants whose shoulders I stand upon today faced cruelties, oppressive policemen, racist judicial systems and a plethora of other indignities but they never, ever allowed these vicissitudes to stop their forward progress.. They faced obstacles far greater than the ones African Americans are facing today but they never allowed anger or attempts to block their progress from forging ahead. So I ask, “why can’t we?” Why can’t we find ways to come together as “the people” and work towards reconciliation and peace?
Make no mistake, I know the present road to equality and justice for all is difficult. I realize the despair and hopelessness of many of the people peacefully protesting what seems to them to be an unjust system badly in need of fixing. However, vandalism ,destruction of property and attacks against the cops will solve nothing. NYPD cops blaming their mayor for the violence that occurred following the Grand Jury’s verdicts and their disrespect for Mayor DeBlasio only increases the violence and anger of the community. Their actions solve nothing! What needs to happen is this: put aside animosity, accusations and anger and create a space for reconciliation and peace. Most importantly, it must be remembered that we are all victims at some time or another. We are all guilty of harboring racist and insensitive beliefs learned long ago by many of us. There must be some place where such a diverse and inclusive group of people may come together to work on solutions to the issues now dividing America.
Creating such a space for reconciliation and peace could be simple if houses of worship were approached about opening up space for dialogue, discussion and soul searching. If not houses of worship then some other space could be opened up. But this must be done as soon as possible in order for the anger and accusations to subside. Mounting fears and suspicions following the senseless murder of two innocent cops must be addressed immediately.
A few years ago I spent six weeks in South Africa as a guest of the Presbyterian Church of South Africa. I arrived shortly after Apartheid had been dismantled and Nelson Mandela was overwhelmingly elected President. Consider the brutality and inhumanity of apartheid in SA and the 27 years of false imprisonment of Nelson Mandela who never allowed his incarceration and inhumane treatment to cause him to respond with anger or violence. I personally witnessed a session of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed following the ANC’s political victory. I saw first hand how reconciliation and forgiveness allowed true freedom for the people of SA. I realize oppression of any kind is awful and must be eradicated. But there is no comparison between apartheid in SA and the brutality by law enforcement agencies throughout America. If SA could create a truth and reconciliation commission then why can’t we? It is in my humble opinion the most reasonable solution to the seemingly never ending fight against racism, sexism and militarism which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, defined as the three great sins of America. Doing nothing only continues the disconnect between the police and the community which will only produce a negative response and outcome. Why not give ourselves a chance to confess and forgive so we can be reconciled with each other? Why not decrease the animosity and rancor and fear by considering such a Commission? Think about it! “They drew a circle that shut me out, heretic, rebel a thing to flout, but love and I had the wit to win, so we drew a circle and took them in.” And so it is.