In a blog post earlier this week, while supporting the peaceful protests for George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, I criticized the random rioting and looting. My reasoning was that these don’t really attack the real problems or perpetrators, that they hurt innocent people such as minority business owners and neighborhoods, and that they lack any kind of strategy other than hoping the threat of violence would cause change. With that said, I do (a little reluctantly because I still believe in doing things legally where possible) support the toppling of Confederate statues. I’ve watched protestors toppling these on the news this week, and contrary to random rioting, this sends a directed and powerful message. These symbols of the past no longer serve our country and it’s time to get rid of them. The inclusion of these statues at city halls and seats of government in the South has been challenged before, and frankly most of these city and state governments have dragged their feet to actually remove them. Two days ago, a statue was toppled in a city adjacent to my own, and this morning the Confederate statue in my own city was removed with cranes by our own city government. Another nearby city announced official removal in early July.
For those cities removing these statues peaceably, I personally believe they should go to graveyards where Confederate soldiers have been laid to rest. This allows for respecting the Confederate dead (even if we don’t agree with their cause), allows for these statues to remain historical reminders of the past (those who don’t learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them), and also symbolically marks their significance to our daily lives as dead and buried. For those cities who refuse to remove these statues from government places, and where they aren’t toppled in protests, I heard someone suggest that counter monuments – perhaps memorializing Northern deaths or those victimized by slavery – would allow for counterpointing the Confederate statues with powerful teaching moments.
I was happy to hear that NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from their races this week. That was a good step. I personally view the Confederate flag as a flag of treason against our country and a lost Civil War for the South. It has also been a rallying flag for racists and white nationalists. While many liberals share this view with me, it is actually more complicated than that. I grew up in a rural Southern town and still have family and friends in that area. The thing is that not everyone rallies around the Confederate flag out of hate or prejudice (even if that is the legacy of that flag). A number of people in the South view the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern heritage and not as a symbol of hate. It is entrenched as a symbol of Southern pride for many rural Southerners. Trying to convince many of them that it is a symbol of racism and hate, will just cause many to double down in their own positions. What I really believe they need is a new flag to symbolize their heritage – something they can fly from the back of their pickup trucks and wave at NASCAR races – because gods know they like to do that kind of thing.
Lastly, I wanted to address things I’ve been hearing these past few weeks about defunding or even abolishing the police. I’ve not read much on what this would entail, so these are only my initial thoughts. My ideas might change if I see a really good plan. I personally believe there is much reform that should be done with police departments and even some of the laws they enforce. I don’t believe every cop is a bad cop. Just an aside – my own father was a policeman, though he retired due to Vietnam related disabilities when I was young. He and my mother taught me not to judge people by the color of their skin. And while I can’t say for sure what he’d be doing in the current situation, I do believe that he would be standing the lines for law and order but would also criticize the cop who killed George Floyd. I personally believe there is much room for reform in the police department – a return to the ethic of being peace officers to protect and serve their communities; a reversal of militarization of police forces; ongoing sensitivity training for a number of disenfranchised communities – African-Americans, LGBTQ folks, and many others; sensitivity training for domestic violence situations; accountability and intervention when it comes to bad cops; and perhaps increased participation in the communities they serve (so neither the community members nor the police are faceless others). I believe it would be a good thing to put some money from police budgets (starting with the expensive military gear) toward the communities themselves. I also believe that some laws and policies should be rethought or abolished – such as racial profiling; chokeholds; entry to arrest without knocking or announcing; and victimless crimes such as recreational drug use and sex work.
I do not believe police departments should be totally abolished — at least not unless there’s something comparable or better to replace them. There are many situations in daily life that require a consensus on law and order and someone to intervene – whether this be police or someone else. There are issues of theft, robberies, break-ins, domestic violence, escalated disagreements between people, gang violence, organized crime, and other concerns requiring immediate or ongoing intervention from someone. There are also little things that protect lives or an orderly way of life – someone to enforce speed limits and traffic laws. The street on the way to work is not a NASCAR raceway and there are some places you shouldn’t U-turn. People ignore these things now with the threat of getting a ticket. What will they do without someone to enforce necessary rules and laws? While I like to look for the best in people, I don’t trust all people to follow rules and laws, especially in the absence of enforcement. Many laws are in place to protect our daily lives from chaos and to protect us from those who would do harm. Yes, there are also many laws that should be reformed or abolished, but not all of them. If we abolish the police totally, I see us descending into anarchy or some kind of wild west lawlessness. In such a society, without someone to intervene, might would make right and I suspect gun nuts will be stocking up on guns and shooting anyone they see as a threat. This is already happening among the current rioting and looting.
Anyway, those are my thoughts.
The Summer / Fall 2020 Issue of the Mysterious Ways newsletter for Pagan men who love men is now available.
The major themes for this issue are:
- The Intersection of Spirituality and Activism
- Coronavirus and your Spiritual Practice
Highlights from this issue include:
- Coronavirus and Rites of Passage
- “Doing It” Digitally (during the pandemic)
- Arcadia 2020 and the Space Between Us
- Niche is Natural
- Green is Gay
- A New Concept of the Celestial Gaia
- The War on Us
- Book Review: Revolutionary Witchcraft
- Book Bingo
- Apollo: God of Healing and Plagues
- Poetry and Art
- Queer Pagan resources and upcoming events
You can view (and download) Mysterious Ways at the link below:
Not long ago, I posted a three-part blog article titled “Can’t We All Get Along.” I pointed out the division in this country, within the Democratic Party, and even within Doctor Who Fandom. I had hoped to encourage folks to find common ground and not to be so polarized. Early last week, in the midst of the George Floyd protests, I took a break from posting cat videos and inspirational music videos on Facebook to pose the question – “Can’t we all agree on some common ground?” I asked the Liberals on my friend’s list (including folks from college, gatherings, and folks that I hang out with regularly) couldn’t we agree that rioting and looting are bad, even if the anger behind them is justified, and especially in light of the fact that most of the businesses being hit are small independent businesses already hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic. I pointed out to the Conservatives on my friends list (mostly family and folks from high school) that they’d be angry if the shoe were on the other foot and a white man had been killed in such a cruel way by a Black man. I also pointed out that they needed to get their story straight on protests. A few years ago, they were calling non-violent protesters against Trump, the Dakota pipeline, and other causes criminals, and calling for them to be arrested. Then a few weeks ago they all started showing up at state capitals with guns to protest stay-at-home orders. Now they’re condemning protests again. I asked them all to recognize our common humanity and that there are bad apples on both sides of the political spectrum, but there are also folks with compassion and humanity on both sides.
I was actually quite surprised by those who responded – three Liberals and two Conservatives – so more or less equal numbers. My post was mostly meant for Conservatives with a feigned slap on the hand to Liberals who I thought would agree that non-violent protest was for the best.
In the Conservative camp, one Conservative who is frequently spouting support for Trump, conspiracy theories and the like, responded quite rationally that “No, we can’t agree, but that disagreement doesn’t have to be the line in the sand that many people make it.” Another Conservative suggested that all the rioters and looters should be shot for breaking the law and that the authorities really have no other choice than to shoot these folks to bring back law and order. I pointed out that these are U.S. citizens and that there are all sorts of non-lethal tools and tactics in place for domestic disturbances. He did later concede that he thought there was no excuse for the police officer who killed Floyd and he hopes the guy gets the death penalty. At least he was consistent in his belief that shooting and killing people is the solution to all life’s big problems.
The Liberal camp shocked and dismayed me a little bit. At least I expected the shoot first, solve problems later from the Conservatives. After three years of Liberals staging non-violent protests against Trump and stressing the importance of non-violence in other protests and causes, it bothered me to see one of my Liberal friends suggesting that we should “Riot on!” Another suggested non-violence was a Pollyanna concept and that rioting and rebellion are necessary for liberty. Yet another sent a link to arguments on “How to respond to ‘riots never solve anything!’” This was after I suggested that non-violent protest should be encouraged but rioting and looting not so much.
I see so much of each other in all this. Perhaps if we can’t agree to aspire to the best in humanity, we can all at least agree to aspire to the worst. While my earlier Facebook post was meant more for the Conservatives, this blog post is aimed squarely at Liberals because I still believe there’s hope, compassion, and reason within you despite whatever anger you may be feeling at this point. While I still consider myself Liberal, due to recent polarizations both in our country and within the Democratic Party I find myself more middle of the road than I used to be. For parts of this article, I’m still going to say “we” and “us” even though “we” and “us” in the Liberal camp is more divided than ever before.
After criticizing Conservatives only a few weeks ago for coming out to protest the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders with their guns and general talks of stoking another American Civil War (violent, if necessary), I cannot in good conscience look the other way when our own side comes out (during a pandemic, I might add) stoking talks of violent revolution. While I believe, wholeheartedly, that the non-violent protests on behalf of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter are a good and necessary thing (and also that protestors should continue wearing masks and social distancing), it would be hypocritical of me to condemn violence and threats of violence by Conservatives only to rally for riots, looting, and violence to advance a cause (any cause) that I as a Liberal hold dear.
Might doesn’t make right. Right makes right (even if the results aren’t always immediate). That includes right action. Right action includes action (as well at thoughts and intentions) consistent with the ethics you believe yourself and that you believe the other side should follow. Right action includes making sure that any action, protest, or even war is directed at the right enemies, governments, departments, laws, policies, or systems, and not just random people or organizations who may or may not already be on your side (or might be persuaded to join your cause provided you don’t make enemies of them). In war, most folks consider it ethical to drop bombs on strategic military bases but not on civilian communities, schools, and hospitals. Right action doesn’t necessarily mean to be “Pollyanna”, complacent, or even lawful. Rosa Parks breaking the law prohibiting Black folks from sitting at the front of a bus is an example of a right action that wasn’t naïve, complacent, or legal at the time. It was both a powerful statement and non-violent.
What bothers me about the rioting, looting, and protests, is that they seem more random and less directed at the people, organizations, and systems that led to this situation in the first place. They lack any kind of strategy or goal other than maybe the threat of violence will cause folks to side with you out of fear of more rioting. In fact, a study of Civil Rights protests by political scientist Omar Wasow argues that peaceful protests during the 1960s actually swayed white people toward voting for Democrats, whereas violent protests brought backlash and swayed white voters in the direction “law and order” Republican candidates (http://www.omarwasow.com/). Isn’t law and order what we hear Republicans and Conservatives calling for in all this? Law and order, even if it means killing looters and rioters? I’ve seen stories about a number of small businesses hit with looting (many of them small Black, minority, or immigrant owned businesses). There was an African American woman on YouTube who went viral for shouting at rioters and looters (mostly white college students) for making her neighborhood unsafe. She shouted about the how people couldn’t safely get to their jobs or to get groceries, and how the homeless people in the neighborhood were affected too. One young Black male protestor interviewed for the PBS News Hour last week, pointed out all the pallets of bricks left in neighborhoods near protest sites and claimed that it looked like “a trap” to incite violence. From what I’ve seen across various media, most of the protesters on the front lines are adamant that the protests remain peaceful and non-violent. Among all this we are also putting more Black lives at risk – whether from corrupt cops looking for an excuse to act out, from angry gun nuts protecting their businesses by shooting to kill, or from the possibility of a surge of Coronavirus cases in an already vulnerable community.
While I agree with the non-violent protests and the support for Black Lives Matter, there is another bigger issue that I’ve taken on in recent years – that is the overall division our country, communities, and political parties have fallen into. While the divisions were there already, the 2016 election, the divisive rhetoric of Trump and his enablers, Russian bots, and the like have furthered these divisions. In this day and age it is easy to dehumanize those we don’t agree with. Trump dehumanizes people he doesn’t agree with on a daily basis by calling them “thugs”, “criminals”, and so on. The policeman who killed George Floyd dehumanized Black people. The police we see acting out badly in the news this past week or two have dehumanized the protestors. For our part, many of us have dehumanized Republicans and Conservatives on the whole, even though many have left the party or spoken out against Trump and his abuses. A Republican group called the Lincoln Project is even actively advertising against Trump. We all have Conservative friends, co-workers, and family members. In this situation, we have also dehumanized all policemen for the actions of some bad actors. We’ve dehumanized the real people living and working in neighborhoods affected by rioting and looting in their neighborhoods because it doesn’t fit our agenda or narrative. As someone once said, the best way to defeat an enemy is to make that enemy a friend or an ally. Perhaps it’s naïve to believe that we are all human, that there are some common ethics that we can all agree to, or that we can change minds through discussion and debate rather than threat of violence.
Despite all the bad stories from the front lines of things like continued police abuse of protesters and reporters, looters being shot and killed by store owners, and trucks plowing through crowds, I’ve been heartened by all the good stories out there this past couple of weeks too. Many police officers lay down their arms and joined the peaceful protests — some even “taking a knee.” Non-violent protestors protected community businesses from looters. One police officer separated from his troop, was protected from the angry mobs by other protestors. There are people of all colors, ages, creeds, and backgrounds out protesting Floyd’s death and supporting Black Lives. The events aren’t even limited to the United States.
During different times, I’d be out there joining in the peaceful protests. Given the current pandemic, I’ve been practicing social distancing and social isolation to protect myself and others from a potentially deadly disease that medical experts don’t yet know enough about. Despite this, I was proud to see on Facebook just the other day that my youngest niece, not long out of high school and who lives in a rural conservative area of Virginia, has been out joining the non-violent protests in her area. She has been sharing her own beliefs, experiences, and photos despite receiving flack for doing so.
I’ll end this post with three quotes on non-violence from Martin Luther King, Jr.
“In spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace.”
“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”
“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”
Mel has a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and is a seasoned LGBTQ community activist. To find out more, please visit his website: www.melmystery.com