Don't look away, listen and watch

I'm embarrassed and angry. These are the two words that keep popping into my head in the last week.

I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed about the online arguing of grown white men and women about things they could never possibly understand. I’m embarrassed that our president leveraged the words of segregationalists to talk about the protests in our cities. I’m embarrassed he calls men who take assault rifles to the state capital in my home state “good people” and then demands that we “get that son of a bitch off the field right now” when black men take a knee in the most peaceful way possible.

I’m angry. I’m angry at injustice. I’m angry at the constant flow of police officers who claim to protect and serve, yet do anything but protect when people are at their most vulnerable. I’m angry at mass incarceration and the overwhelming data that show black men are imprisoned and targeted by the judicial system at an overwhelmingly unfair rate. I’m angry at myself for being quiet when a relative makes a veiled comment about black men or women. I’m angry at myself for not making the problem of police brutality more important just because it might not be a problem for me. I’m angry at the foolishness of my youth that scoffed at such problems existing. I’m angry at the way I treated black friends as a kid when issues like this came up or didn't come up at all. I’m angry I didn’t try to understand them more and understand the history behind systematic racism. I’m angry at the part I played in sitting still while the system continued to exploit black men and women.

It’s important to remember how different my anger is then the anger of those who are hurting the most right now. My anger is a disconnected and distant anger. I’ll never understand the same level of anxiety and trepidation that a black man feels when the police pull him over. I’ll never understand what it feels like to know that your relatives, in the last century alone, suffered through segregation, and continued discrimination. I’ll never understand that anger in the same way. The best I can hope to do is to act swiftly, listen, watch, read, pray, and vote.

Ephesians 4:26 (ESV): 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.

I’ve had to think a ton about what righteous anger means in the last week. I’ve had to think about being angry and confronting the log in my own eye. My version of righteous anger is entirely different from the black men and women who are no stranger to feeling the anger at a system stacked against them. I’ve thought about what it means when the Bible says: “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.” This form of righteous anger is one that needs to act fast. This is an anger that doesn’t sit quietly and watch as the police and the system around them continue to exploit black Americans. Injustice and God don’t mix well.

When Eric Garner was murdered in 2014, it was the first time I had thought about and explored the idea of injustice and how it still impacts black people today. I observed and saw injustice occurring, I just never knew how to think about white privilege and how it leveraged itself in society.

Garner’s death was six years ago. Since 2014, we’ve elected Donald Trump as president, ostracized athletes who peacefully protest police killings and injustice, and watched as cops killed around 1,000 people each year. Nothing has changed because we complain about it, move on, and most young people don’t vote in local elections where this change actually takes place.

Watch police brutality, don’t become numb to seeing a declared public servant run at someone with a car, or a horse, or shoot projectiles at someone on their porch, or attack the free press doing their job. 

Jordan put it best, who’re these officers protecting and serving?

Clearly, the brutality taking place isn’t all police officers. There are some police officers who are doing incredible things, like in Flint and New Jersey. However, some just isn’t good enough.

I used to think that police brutality and violence was random. However, when confronted with protests about police violence, far too many police officers committed police brutality in front of us and in front of cameras. What I’ve realized is that it’s been happening; it’s just being captured on video now.

Don’t look away, listen and watch. What’s happening is uncomfortable and difficult to confront. Especially if you’ve made efforts to look away in the past or like me, cared about it for the few weeks it’s an issue, and then moved on.

When I wrote about our country's gun problem a few years ago, I could understand and relate to what was happening to some extent. I live in Georgia and am well aware of the cultural and semi-religious approach to guns. I saw the discomfort and effort it took people to defend the problem. I could understand it partially, not as much as those directly impacted by gun violence, but I could relate to feeling squeamish around the worship of objects designed to kill things.

I have no ability to wholly relate to or understand the problem of systematic racism, mass incarceration, and police discrimination. I write from a place of concern and heartache, but I don’t “get it.” I’ve had to learn, and am still learning, to shut up and listen. To shut up and read. To shut up and pray. To shut up and vote, at every local election I can. How dare we complain about police violence or mass incarceration and then not show up to vote out the people who continually cause and enable those problems.

I hope we learn from this and turn towards solutions. If not now, then when? We asked ourselves this question when Eric Garner couldn’t breathe. For far too long, white people have set the boundaries for how we’re okay with black people protesting. Many weren’t okay with it when it was a silent kneeling, and many aren’t okay with what’s happening in our cities today. It’s time to shut up about how we think others should protest their injustices and instead choose to stand alongside and support them.

Read. Pray. Listen. Vote. Protest. Watch. 

Read what you don’t understand. Read works by black authors. Read about the life of the black man and woman less than 100 years ago in the “good ole days,” as some in the south refer to them. Read about lynchings that took place in the 20th century. Read about the injustices that have been stacked up against black people in the judicial system and in society.

Pray for justice to be served. God is a just God. I really believe that. But pray that justice would be served. Pray intentionally. Pray for the murderers of George Floyd to face a swift conviction. Pray for justice to be served to the complicit cops that watched George Floyd murdered in front of them and did nothing. Pray for justice for the cops, who in the name of protecting and serving their cities, brutalized citizens protesting. Pray for the protesters’ and police officers’ safety.

Listen to people outside of your circle. Listen to people who didn’t live the same life as you growing up. Listen to people who look different than you, talk differently than you, and vote differently than you.

Protest. Whatever this looks like for you in today’s climate. Protest. It may look like marching. It may look different amidst a pandemic. But we cannot be still.

Vote. Woe are we to think we can change things without showing up to vote. How dare we claim to care, yet not display our care in the most basic easy way possible at the ballot box. You can’t claim to care by yelling and screaming online and then skip quietly showing up to the ballot box to impact actual change. Your loud comments and shares do nothing.

As a white male with little perspective on what it’s like to be black in America, I hope to learn and listen. I hope when I do speak, like I am now, I would do so with thoughtfulness and patience. I hope it wouldn’t be offhanded comments, online or in-person, that degrade the goals of equality.

I’m angry and embarrassed. I’ll shut up, watch, and listen now. We can’t look away.