Our friend, Hudson Davis, brings a unique voice to this conversation; having grown up during the 1970s on a West Indian island where everyone was a shade of brown or beige, he knew nothing of racism or civil rights until he came to the United States in the nineties. His perspective brings wisdom to our healing. Look for Hudson’s full story in our next issue of Shattered Magazine.
Each shot fired at a policeman is a shot fired at the heart of us all, and each death is a death to the American dream. Those firing the shots are insane. Their very actions are evidence of their mental state—unbalanced. It is in no way an act of solidarity with blacks, nor is it an advancement in the cause of justice and peace for Americans.
It is insanity to imagine that randomly killing police officers will lead to greater peace between the police and the black community. The remaining officers, shocked by these events, will surely be even more on edge, even more suspicious, even more defensive, making the potential for violence even greater. Which of course will fan the flames of discord and lead to more protests and possible killings. It is a vicious cycle that must stop.
This is only one part of the story, but it will continue to dwarf the real issues at hand. Neither the media nor the person on the street will stop to talk about the root issues while shots are being fired and people are dying. But there is a deeper issue that, if not addressed, will return time and time again.
With all respect to President Obama and others who say, “We are not divided,” we are divided. The first time I realized this was in a Black History class in college, where I read about the continual legal disenfranchisement of blacks in America. I thought to myself, There is a dual history to America—a divided history.
Certainly, we are divided on more than just color lines, but the unrest and anger demonstrate that perceptions of the situation differ on issues of race. Some people feel left out, or more accurately, oppressed. The denial of at least this perception or felt reality is not helpful and hinders any true dialogue.
Yes, we are more united than we were before. We are more racially sensitive than we were. But it is not possible to have true dialogue if we come to the table without acknowledging the other person’s pain. There is pain in the black community, and there are historic reasons for it. There is pain of a different kind in the white community, too. This is the root of the issue that the gunshots drown out.
Thank God people are protesting and standing up. Being silent is its own crime. But God forbid they should teach or preach hate against anyone. God forbid they should begin to become like their tormentors by killing random — or specific — policemen. I understand the reasons for the violent black power movement; violence is the quickest way to show power — violence. It is the simplest; however, this does not mean it is the wisest option.
If we cannot sit down and talk about our mutual but separate and unequal past, we may just destroy each other. We must be willing to admit the wrongs that brought us here and that sometimes people act in ways that invoke fear and violent actions from police. Both are true, though not true in every case. We must admit, to quote Marvin Gaye, that sometimes police are heavy-handed. He sang:
Hang ups, let downs
Bad breaks, set backs
Natural fact is
I can’t pay my taxes
Oh, make me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands
Yea, it makes me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands
Crime is increasing
Trigger happy policing
Panic is spreading
God know where we’re heading
Oh, make me wanna holler
They don’t understand
It is really not possible to have this dialogue on the issue of killing police until we address the issue of police violence. It is not possible to have that discussion until we address the issues of crime in some American communities. Again, we can’t have that discussion until we attack the root of the poverty and disenfranchisement in those same communities. And we can’t do that until we admit we are a nation divided—though we do not want to be.
Perhaps that is what President Obama and others really mean to say. “Don’t let this divide us further. Let it unite us.”
That is a good word. It is not possible to have this dialogue only in the 21st century. We must gather up the history that divides us before we can unite in this new century. This is not to excuse any violence, any hatred or any laziness, but rather to consider the source. This is what my friend’s dad, Mr. Canaff, always said as we were growing up: “Consider the source.”
In other words, the person in front of us, the situation in front of us, is not just the situation before us. This may mean dredging up an inglorious American history many would rather remain buried. If we do this, we leave not only the past buried alive, we bury the future with it. We will have a wound with a scar but one that is dirty underneath and therefore cannot fully heal.
Sad to say, some of what is happening (though I deplore it) is the re-opening of that wound. I hope it does not cost too many lives. I hope it is over soon. But pressure must always be released, eased, either gradually or through an explosion. I am not sure whether it’s part of the gradual or a precursor to the explosion, but my hope is we are able to release the pressure, clean the wound, acknowledge the pain and act so the wound will heal and heal well. Anything less will have us ignorant of our history and perhaps, as George Santayana said, “doomed to repeat it.”
Hudson Russell Davis is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary (ThM) and Saint Louis University (Ph.D. with a specialty in Historical Theology). He is a grateful husband and father. Hudson shares more on his blog: www.streamsinthewilderness.com.