I think we are asking the wrong question. When we hear the horrifying reports of the killings of black men and attacks on police officers, we want to know who to blame. There has to be someone at fault. But the deeper question is, why do we make decisions in our society based on fear. Because fear changes us, it makes normally good people make very bad choices, and it creates an atmosphere where everyone is a potential enemy.
I am a police chaplain, and I have ridden with officers who ground their actions in their integrity. I participate in interracial dialogues. I have heard the legitimate and heartbreaking anger from years of oppression. It is simply too easy to say that one group of people is bad or wrong. It is simply too easy to create a world of us and them. Barriers and walls do not protect us.
The only way out that makes sense to me is to build community, not to destroy it; to foster relationship and conversation that change us. We have to start by listening to each other. Asking to hear people’s stories. And really paying attention. Not trying to fix or dismiss or compare. Not hearing only the mistakes, because we have all made them. When we listen with an open heart, we no longer see someone as a category, but as a person. We find the connections and the commonalities.
And it changes us. I started by saying we should question why our society let’s fear dictate responses, reacting, usually badly. The other question we are prone to ask is who is going to do something. The government, the justice system, the protesters and seekers of justice? But it cannot always be someone else. We need to be asking what we can do. Now. Today.
When we are changed by the conversations we have with people, and we no longer see people as black or white, young or old, male or female, gay or straight, but instead see them as our community, our family, we realize that we cannot be the same, we cannot live the same. To see someone we now care about in pain moves us to action.
We start by admitting our own privilege and prejudice. We all have prejudices, and we have to be honest about that. We have to own our ways of thinking and believing that are destroying us, and be willing to grow past them. Until we admit that we benefit from a system that institutionalizes racism and other forms of oppression, no change is possible.
There are several efforts at discussion around racial reconciliation happening in the Youngstown area. Are you attending? Will you make time for this opportunity for a stronger community? Do you know the community police officer in your area? Have you built a relationship with the people who have sworn to protect you? Again I will say that dialogue and building relationships make a difference. We need to start seeing people as potential friends and not as potential enemies.
I am certain that violence, more guns, and higher levels of anxiety and fear are not the answer. You are. I am. Committing to opening our hearts to each other and creating the community we want together. That is the answer.