I see a lot of people making the assumption that participating in #BlackLivesMatter protests shows a lack of respect or support for law enforcement personnel.  NYC mayor Bill de Blasio asked that the protests stop until the two officers tragically slain by Ismaaiyl Brinsley are buried.  The Police Union in Cleveland demanded an apology from their football team for wearing t-shirts supportive of the movement.

In less public moments, this dynamic plays out when folks (mostly white folks) respond to comments or postings on the issue by pointing out what a dangerous job it is to be a police officer.  I’ve also seen police officers who attempt to support the movement accused of being ‘traitors.’  This attempt to polarize the issue, to create a ‘for and against,’ confuses me.

Here’s the thing:  to kill an unarmed person is to go against the fundamental instinct to preserve life.  It creates a soul wound.  The refusal of ‘the system’ to hold police officers accountable for this tragic mistake…dare I say, this sin…compounds the wound.  When a human being makes a mistake, the path to healing leads through accepting responsibility to apologizing to restoring relationship.

The kind of people that we want policing us are the kind of people who take their responsibility and their power seriously– the kind of people who would be devastated should their fear drive them to kill someone needlessly.  Any work that we are able to do to address systemic racism and create accountability will ultimately help them, too.  So while- of course- the primary reason to do the work is to prevent tragic deaths from happening in the first place, one also hopes that it will help to protect the integrity and soul-health of law enforcement officers.

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Following up on the Forum

December 16, 2014

Last Thursday, I participated on a forum called ‘Lessons from Ferguson.’  My co-panelists included Moscow Police Chief David Duke, U of I journalism professor Steve Smith, and Vivi Gonzales, director of diversity at the ASUI.  Over a hundred people attended and the Daily News wrote an extended article that appeared on the front page the next day.  I shared the story of my trip to Ferguson.  Professor Smith talked about the good, the bad, and the ugly in media coverage of the events in Ferguson and beyond.  Chief Duke talked about the problems in policing that are generating so much heat across the country, and shared the ways he tries to keep those problems out of the Moscow police force by focusing on ethics and diversity.  Ms. Gonzales spoke of the bad reputation that Northern Idaho has due to the white supremacist organization that used to be in Coeur d’Alene.  She also shared a heartbreaking story of her own brother being subjected to racial epithets at a soccer game.  We can do better, Idahoans!

Three of the panelists and most of the people who asked questions were white.  That’s not going to work going forward.  We need to step back and make (safe) space for people with stories of discrimination and oppression to share them.  If my I can use my privilege as a white clergyperson to help establish and enforce ground rules that make the space safer, I’m happy to do so.  Otherwise, I’ll just sit and listen and support the effort in whatever way I am asked.

There was a ‘teachable moment’ that we missed.  A woman named Sharlese (sp??) shared that she doesn’t like people asking her where she’s from.  She’s like people to get to know who she is rather than trying to fit her into a category.  A little while later, an older, white male with an accent stood up and claimed he ought to be able to ask people where they’re from; the group laughed it off and asked him where he was from.  But truthfully, his question was defensive.  We’ve got to be willing to listen WITHOUT getting defensive.  We need to be teachable, and I wish I had been quicker on the uptake and able to say so in a way that he could hear.

The most important thing about the forum was that it showed that there is considerable energy around unraveling racism here in the Palouse.  Here is my prayer:  May that energy be converted into truth-telling, and transformation, and healing. And my promise:  I’ll do whatever I can to help!