I was abroad when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson last summer. I was way off the grid in Botswana. When we finally got back to Lusaka and turned on CNN International protests were in full force and we couldn’t believe our eyes. Perhaps it was missing the initial aftermath, perhaps it was being abroad, but I didn’t register any severe moral indignation. Yes, I knew it was a tragedy, I knew it was another example of a black boy not being given the benefit of the doubt that so many of us enjoy, and it was another example of a person in power victimizing another person and then claiming they feared said victim’s power. I knew all these things, but I didn’t quite feel the sorrow in my heart.
Months later I saw an image in my Facebook feed that took my breath away. A black man was holding a sign that read “No mother should have to fear for her son’s life every time he robs a store”
I knew the image had been photoshopped, that the man’s message had been that they shouldn’t have to fear every time they leave the house. Still, knowing that people were supporting the terrible, perverted message that black victims “deserve what they get” destroyed me.
I say it took my breath away, but the truth is it filled me up with breath – a holy, righteous breath of anger that nearly lifted me off the floor. Finally, I felt what I should about such a tragic injustice.
When the terrible news of a Bible study attacked at an iconic African-American landmark church in Charleston, South Carolina, my heart broke as it has so many times in recent years. Almost immediately I thought: now, now at least the haters will have nothing to say. How can they blame these victims, who took time on a Wednesday night to pray together? How can they say it “wasn’t about race” when the killer referred to his victims as “you people” and announced his belief in the most false, archaic and ugly tropes about black Americans? At least as we mourn we won’t have to listen to that crap.
But of course, there is always crap to be found, as we was reminded today when I read that an NRA board member is blaming the pastor of that church for his death because he opposed a conceal-and-carry.
I’m old enough to remember when the NRA primarily presented itself as a sportsmen’s group. I never was particularly sympathetic to the cause, but I recognized that there were hunters and hobbyists who enjoyed having guns and using them for recreation.
At some point between my rural youth and now, the rhetoric changed. It’s not just the NRA, it’s the whole way we talk about guns. It’s why I don’t buy the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people argument”.
Guns don’t kill people, people who have been raised in a culture that claims we have a right to guns in case we need to kill someone kill people.
Maybe that was the intention of the Founders, but frankly I don’t care. Our blasé attitude about using guns “for self-defense” is indefensible. How often will any of us be put in a position that “we need to kill someone”? Whose decision will it be that lethal force is necessary? Who’s to say we will be able to carry it out? Who’s to say we will want to?
But that’s the narrative now. The story we tell now is that guns are no longer the domain of sportsmen and enthusiasts. Now they are for anyone confident that they could decide if someone should live or die, and for the fearful. And we are convinced to be afraid, so that they can sell more guns. Don’t be afraid, if someone threatens you, you can just shoot them! Even though that will likely be a defining moment in your life, don’t worry, we’re telling you it’s no big deal.
Taking a life is no longer a big deal.
The only thing worse than the fear we are all swimming in is the hate. Oh how we hate. Thugs. “Those people”.
Didn’t you know, black people commit crime? (Of course they do, all racial groups are diverse and make mistakes and yes, at times are even evil. Whites have been given the luxury of complexity for ages – why are we so stingy about extending it to others?).
Fine, but I’m not changing the way I talk. I’m sick of political correctness. (One man’s political correctness is another person’s “not being an asshole”. When someone admits to you that something is hurtful, shouldn’t you at least try to understand rather than telling them that their experience is somehow “wrong”?)
I’ll be honest, I fear the hate in myself. I worry that I am being swept up into the same maelstrom of violence and rage. I feel a loathing toward the victim-blamers and the racists whose comments raise the hairs on the back of my neck. This loathing runs against everything I’ve been raised to believe about compassion, understanding and forgiveness. But I’ve had it with the entrenched bigotry that our blessed and beautiful nation can’t seem to shake.
Today is Juneteenth, the celebration of the end of slavery. I had thought I would post more today about the papal encyclical, but reading Laudato Si reminded me that one of our duties as Christians is to keep others – especially the powerless – in mind with every decision we make. So I couldn’t keep quiet about this. My inarticulate voice, coming as it does from the ranks of the privileged and empowered, will never be enough, but the wind of fury that fills me up compels me to speak out.