CIVIL UNREST AND SUBVERSIVE VISION
©Wendell Griffen, 2015
Justice Is A Verb!
As someone who has devoted my adult life to studying and working for social justice (politically, economically, culturally, and theologically) I am struck by the inability of pundits, politicians, and others within the dominant community to make sense of the rage, disgust, and disenchantment expressed by poor people and persons of color in various communities across the U.S. to instances of reported police misconduct that has resulted in the deaths of poor, black, and brown people.
Television news personalities (they call themselves “journalists” but I question if that word is fair or accurate to describe what they do and the purpose of their work on behalf of the corporate entities to whom they are most loyal), politicians, and others act as if the civil unrest demonstrates a problem within communities of color. One can almost hear people from the dominant society ask, “What’s wrong with these people? Why can’t they respond calmly, peacefully, and by using the established processes for getting their grievances addressed?”
Let me try and “break it down.” Let me “unpack” what politicians and pundits and other people who speak without empathy concerning the realities of social injustice and police misconduct so clearly cannot understand or refuse to admit.
The conduct that has been called “civil unrest” is the response of people who have been wounded, cheated, robbed, beaten, slaughtered, and historically marginalized with the tacit, and often explicit, blessing of the dominant society.
Children have been shot and killed: Trayvon Martin in Florida, Tamir Rice in Ohio, Michael Brown, Jr. in Missouri, Rekia Boyd in Illinois, Bobby Moore III in Arkansas, Walter Scott in South Carolina, Freddie Gray in Maryland, and many more). The politicians, pundits, and “good people” within the dominant society have not denounced the immorality of those homicides, but have “appealed” for “calm and peaceful responses” while allowing killers to go unpunished in practically every instance.
Parents and other elders have been killed. Eric Garner was choked to death in New York. Monroe Isadore (107 years old) was shot to death while lying in his bed in Arkansas. Eugene Ellison (father of two veteran black police officers) was shot to death in his apartment. The politicians, pundits, and “good people” have not denounced the culture of violence within law enforcement and societal tolerance for abusive and homicidal police behavior. Instead, they have denounced the people who have stolen and burned property, as if stealing and burning is somehow a greater moral and social wrong than killing people.
So let’s be clear. The growing social “unrest” is not a statement about the character of the protestors, including those who engage in the unlawful behavior of stealing and burning the property of others. It is evidence of a mounting resistance movement against a politically protected and socially endorsed regime of state-sanctioned and funded terrorism by rogue law enforcement agents.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned our society and world about the evils of racism, materialism, and militarism. Politicians and pundits who profess to respect Dr. King have refused to heed his prophetic call to lead the world in undergoing a “radical revolution of values” away from placing concern about property over concern about people,
Dr. King warned that the absence of justice for black people will not be tolerated tranquilly. In an essay published after his death, King wrote: “When millions of people have been cheated for centuries, restitution is a costly process. Inferior education, poor housing, unemployment, inadequate health care—each is a bitter component of the oppression that has been our heritage… White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society.” The politicians and pundits engaged in televised head-scratching, hand-wringing, and task force convening have quoted the “I have a dream” words of King, but have remained deliberately ignorant about and dismissive of King’s warnings.
What the pundits and politicians now fail to recognize (or admit) is something Dr. King wrote in that 1968 essay published after he was murdered. “… [T]o this day, black Americans have not life, liberty nor the privilege of pursuing happiness, and millions of poor white Americans are in economic bondage that is scarcely less oppressive. Americans who genuinely treasure our national ideals, who know they are still elusive dreams for all too many, should welcome the stirring of Negro demands. They are shattering the complacency that allowed a multitude of social evils to accumulate. Negro agitation is requiring America to reexamine its comforting myths and may yet catalyze the drastic reforms that will save us from social catastrophe.”
To put it bluntly, what the politicians and pundits are denouncing as “civil unrest” are the sights, sounds, and other efforts of people engaged in a grass roots struggle against institutionalized and politically sanctioned injustice. These struggling people are no longer willing to accept the lies of politicians and profiteers who talk about “economic development” that leaves their communities with the highest unemployment, the worst social services, the most impoverished schools, and the most people with law enforcement credentials who abuse and kill their neighbors and relatives.
The “protestors” are denouncing the continued evidence of economic, social, and cultural apartheid in the United States. Ferguson, Staten Island, Milwaukee, Baltimore, and other communities around the nation are beginning to look like Gaza in 2015 and like Newark, Detroit, Washington, Los Angeles, and other cities affected by “civil disorders” during the Sixties. People who know what justice demands eventually will lose patience and refuse calls for calm when politicians and pundits allow their children, parents, and neighbors to be systematically and routinely abused, beaten, slaughtered, and their communities to be politically and socially marginalized.
A hint to the politicians and pundits: If you want peace, do justice. Until then, expect more “unrest.” That “unrest” is what oppressed, wounded, and outraged people do in their quest for justice when they no longer trust or respect your “legitimate” processes and systems. That isn’t something to denounce. It is something to listen to, learn from, and use as impetus for the radical revolution of values Dr. King begged us to embrace before he was murdered for telling the truth.