Saturday, December 20, 2014

Yes, we should make people uncomfortable with what's going on

I see some people who are sympathetic to the "Black Lives Matter" movement against police brutality are still upset by any outward disruption that puts these protests in front of them. A good example is the whining from many white people about the dozens of people arrested after blocking I-43 northbound in Milwaukee last night to complain about the lack of charges against officers who killed the unarmed Dontre Hamilton in April. Another example include the numerous die-ins and other protests that took place at shopping malls on the last Saturday before Christmas, including a huge one that shut down the Mall of America in Minnesota for a spell. This no doubt annoyed shoppers who were trying to complete their lists, and maybe angered a few that didn't want to deal with the issue.

But there's a part of me that kinda likes that these people are made uncomfortable. People need to see and feel the reality in front of them, because the inability to empathize to others is one of this country's biggest failures today, and if these people end up having to think about the issue and go through a bit of annoyance in the process, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Once you're directly affected and forced to have some kind of skin in the game, no matter how fleeting, it can keep those issues aware in your mind, and makes discussion and action more likely.

And to those with hurt fee-fees from having to deal with these issues, and are unhappy about their day-to-day being disrupted? I note this passage from Dr. Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", in April 1963.
...I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. ...

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies--a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.
I fear that if the bad cops are not brought to justice, and that the overwhelming advantages to those connected to power continue, then some people will feel they have no choice but to be destructive as opposed to work toward the hope of improving the situation through legal means. This happened in New York City today, where a homicidal maniac used the lack of prosecution in the death of unarmed Eric Garner as a reason to go over the edge, and he executed two innocent police officers in their squad cars today.

The lack of trust in our legal system and our law enforcement officers is a problem for ALL OF US, and it endangers the many good cops that work within their community and do the right thing in their very tough circumstances. Protecting the bad guys (be they in law enforcement, on Wall Street, or in our politics) is leading to a situation that is intolerable for many of us, and not reversing this trend will lead to some people to decide to do bad things that go well beyond a peaceful protest. I hope that we can de-escalate this tinderbox of anger and mistrust from igniting into something worse, but I fear too many in power and too many in our media benefit from that division for them to do the right thing, and too many white moderates that are willing to condone any response from those in power (no matter how destructive or regressive) because they don't want to face the serious issues that we must confront and try to solve.

1 comment:

  1. A good example of this is where marchers took tonight's rally in protest of the decision not to charge a Milwaukee cop for killing Dontre Hamilton. They took it down the street to go in front of the Bradley Center before the Bucks game tonight.

    Why not make people think about these things as they're heading inside, especially among a group of people that may not often go into the city? The only thing better would be to take it into the town square of some right-wing cesspool in Washington or Waukesha County.