How is it that something which has the power to reveal the truth and unite us, can so often and so easily divide us and make it even harder to reconcile? A few weeks ago when the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder was first being shared, it felt like it could be something that would lead to change, but then people started saying that Arbery had a record and appeared to be attacking Travis McMichael. And by the time the video of Arbery looking around a local construction site was released many had already denied any possibility that race could have been a factor.
I kept thinking that if the event had just been a clearer case of unnecessary violence against a person of color then even those who strongly believe that there is not a race problem in our nation would be forced to acknowledge the truth. Then came the video of George Floyd’s murder and people were speaking out about it who had never spoken out about race before. It really looked like this could be the moment when our nation might come together for change, but then came the videos of the riots.
Instantly those who deny that racism is a problem had something to point to as an excuse. One person suggested that if the people of Minneapolis are that violent, then it must explain why the police have to be so aggressive. This is the paradox that we live in, if it isn’t “clear enough” that a crime is motivated by race, then we deny that there’s a problem, but if it is so obvious that the community fights back, then we blame them for it! As I saw these events play out over the past couple of weeks I realized that I had seen the exact same cycle repeat itself multiple times over the past few years.
It’s in moments like this, when I am tempted to blame the protesters, that I remember these words from Howard Zinn, “The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.” For years, the cries of poor boys and girls who had been abused by clergy were ignored, and often for the same reasons. The trauma from their abuse caused them to act out and then their acting out was used to discredit their stories. We must acknowledge the ongoing problem of racism in our nation, we must stop blaming the victims even when they riot, and we must do it now before the division that it has caused leads to even more violence.
Speaking out is great but it is just the first step. I encourage you to talk with people in your community who have suffered from racism. Read or listen to the stories of others across our nation who have suffered. Then find a way to get involved in your community. If the events of the past few weeks have made you feel like you really want to start fighting for changes in your local justice system, please reach out to me through email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I would love to send you some resources. Finally, if you’re reading this and you still strongly believe that racism is not a problem, hopefully we can find a way to see the truth together, so leave a reply in the comment section.