After being arrested for helping to block traffic on I-80 and attending several other peaceful #BlackLivesMatter protests around the East Bay, I have seen first-hand how the loving message of tens of thousands of peaceful protestors across the country has been partially overshadowed by the hateful message of a tiny number of violent aggressors.
These people are not activists or protestors; they’re criminals acting out of rage or a nihilistic pursuit of violence for entertainment’s sake.
This violence took an extreme form on Saturday Dec. 20 when a man full of homicidal rage killed two Brooklyn police officers after reportedly shooting his ex-girlfriend and before taking his own life. Their deaths deserve to be mourned no less than the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
We cannot allow the fact that this cop killer presented his own monstrous act as revenge for Brown and Garner to detract from the march to justice. In the wake of Saturday’s killings, the NYPD union reflexively blamed protestors and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying they would “become a ‘wartime’ police department.” This reaction brings to mind Martin Luther King’s words, “returning violence for violence multiplies violence.” He is as prophetic as ever. Violence against unarmed black men begets distrust of and violence against police, begets police who view themselves as soldiers fighting an enemy instead of peace officers serving a community. Either we can respond with hate, sowing greater distrust and violence, or we can respond with understanding love and disrupt the cycle of violence.
Nearly all police are good police. Our struggle is not against them. Our struggle is against institutional racism. The genius of Dr. King was in transferring the ideals of love and non-violence on an individual level to a community and national level. It was in realizing that nonviolence was not nonresistance. Instead, peaceful protests, civil disobedience, and boycotts are powerful forms of resistance that can stop the cycle of violence. Reverend Philip Brochard of the All Souls Episcopal Parish in Berkeley recently argued, “this was one of the great gifts of the Civil Rights Movement, a belief that through time, effort, prayer, patience and sustained action, that a new day is possible, that we can overcome the injustices and inequities that surround us.”
Just as Dr. King showed love and respect for whites, we must show love and respect for police. We must show them that we do not consider them the enemy so that they do not consider us the enemy. Many police who object to the protests acknowledge that a problem exists and even express support for wearing body cameras and other policy proposals that have been raised. They don’t disagree on the substance. Rather, they feel hated and attacked. We can change that.
We must continue the march to justice. But we must also differentiate activism from violence. Don’t ever call police “pigs.” Don’t ever chant “f—k the police.” Do chant, “black lives matter,” a message of love and respect. Do chant, “hands up! don’t shoot!” a direct call for non-violence. Do hold your hands in the air when you encounter riot police, both as a symbol of the protest and – along with not doing anything else threatening or disrespectful – to show them you’re not holding a weapon and mean them no harm.
Just as the beating of Rodney King awoke a generation of Americans to ongoing racial injustice, the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have awoken my generation. It is now our responsibility, young and old alike, to channel our frustration into peaceful, respectful, firm demands for reform.
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