It’s déjà vu all over again.
My mind is now occupied with thoughts reminiscent of last fall, as I watched Ferguson, MO dissolve into chaos, pain, anger and frustration. The images that flashed across my TV screen, Facebook and Twitter feeds left me heartbroken, frustrated, and at times enraged.
My frustrations are a mixture of pain and sadness, anger and annoyance. I am annoyed with the element that uses the moment as an excuse to riot and loot, which takes the attention away from the thousands (yes, thousands) of people peacefully protesting and demanding answers and justice for Mr. Gray. I am saddened and hurt for the community organizers and citizens who led these protests, not wishing to destroy, but to build up, to bring light to a situation still shrouded in mystery so that the family can know why their loved one died in police custody. This family deserves answers. Regardless of why Mr. Gray was apprehended, he did not deserve to be injured in custody to the point of losing his life. And the family wants to know why. They deserve to know why.
But now…now their voices are lost in a sea of shattered glass, smoke and ash. The only images you see on any media outlet you turn to are buildings burning, people stomping on cars or throwing rocks at police. Nothing of the actual protest that began the day, a peaceful, lawful demonstration of every citizen’s right to air their grievances and be heard.
The history behind protest and rioting is long and complicated. A quote I’ve seen a lot since yesterday is a statement Martin Luther King made about rioting being “the language of the unheard”. Here are his words in context
Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.
That his words could still ring true today only deepens the sadness in my heart. That we still see this simmering pain, anger, history of distrust and loss of hope that even makes such an event possible is cause for long reflection, not finger pointing, justifying or condemnation.
This is all I will say on this subject…my heart is weary, my soul tired. The polarization of our culture, both in and out of the church is draining. Nothing that I would say right now would have any measure of theological nuance or penetrating analysis; right now, I’m speaking from a broken heart, raw with emotion, desperate for the Lord to intervene. My heart simply needs to pray. I don’t have a solution; I don’t know what to do to bring about the change needed, and I’m not going to attempt to give answers to a problem that is as old as this country. All I know is what I said on my Facebook page yesterday: our country needs prayer. Oh, Lord, heal our land…