The killing of two policemen by an emotionally disturbed person this past week was a horrifying crime.
As we learn more about the perpetrator — for example, his life-threatening attack on his own girlfriend and many other details of a disturbed life –— it has become clearer that his claimed motive of “revenge” for killing two policemen who were themselves utterly unrelated to racist violence was a moment for him not of a perverse attempt at ethical clarity butof a perverse attempt to clarify what had been his confused and unimposing life. Even in death he won a moment of triumphant fame.
But his personal triumph was a disaster not only for his own life, for the two human beings he killed, and for their families and friends — but also for the very mission he claimed to be pursuing.
It offered an excuse for a backlash by leaders of some police forces (notably New York City’s) –— an excuse to condemn the hundreds of nonviolent protests carried on by tens of thousands of people against police violence and the racism infused in it.
But the excuse is only that, not a reason to ask anti-racist demonstrators to pause for even a moment from nonviolent protests. Not a reason for a pause in efforts to cure America from the deadly Disease of Domination that is embodied in many forms and arenas of our lives –— not only in police racism, not only in the deepest structures of US racism, but in other aspects of domineering, unaccountable, oppressive power — unchecked corporate power, floods of money in elections, scorching of our Mother Earth by institutions that insist on burning fossil fuels.
Yet the whole affair, even this perverse response to a perverse crime, carries an important lesson. It is the lesson that both at a tactical and spiritual level, nonviolence is crucial to curing us of the Disease of Domination.
Why are police forces everywhere being told to armor up in the wake of these two killings? Because of fear. Fear that suddenly seems not unreasonable.
Fear among street-level police that their lives may now actually be in danger.. Fear among police leaders that their power may be diluted if the national “Black Lives Matter” movement wins substantial oversight and continuing challenge to police impunity. Fear among some police leaders that their power may be diluted if the national “Black Lives Matter” movement wins substantial oversight and continuing challenge to police impunity.
It is the task of serious, spiritually rooted nonviolence to insist on change while dispelling that kind of fear.
Real change will end the unaccountable power of the “Powers That Be.”. Those who benefit from that power may indeed fear the loss of it, loss of the luxury of lording it over others. But they should not be forced to fear for their lives and limbs and decent livelihoods.
In the story of Exodus from slavery to Pharaoh, it was the God Whose Name was “I Will Be Who I Will Be” — the universe of a flowing, ever-unfolding future –- the God of the Interbreathing of all life — that ended the locked in, breath-held power of Pharaoh.
The movement to end police violence should now take a deep breath and publicly assert that police officers are not the enemy: It is the assumptions of racism and of unaccountable power that are the enemy.
We should say that we understand: Not only now but almost always, the police have been taught to fear for their lives. The instilling of that fear is what leads to police violence. But the healing response to that fear is not the police use of still worse racist violence, but an end to the deprivation and humiliation of the poor, the Black, the brown communities that fires up the sizzling anger that then inspires fear among the police.
In 1967 those antiwar protestors who besieged the Pentagon chanted to the troops assembled to defend it, “Join us! Join us! Join us!”
It was the Pentagon, the stony locked-down physical building and its stony locked-in social system –- not the frightened troops — that were the enemy.
To the policemen and women, we should we saying not “Racist pigs!” but “Join us! Join us! Join us!”
Join us in creating new forms of community, new forms of policing. Not the PR game of top-down “community policing.” But what?
Fifty years ago, the Black community of Mississippi and its white allies responded to schools that demeaned them and a voting system that excluded them by creating Freedom Schools and the Freedom Party. Today we should be creating “Freedom Cops,” who are an organic part of their communities and are accountable to them.
And also Freedom Schools, Freedom Gardens, Freedom Food & Clothing Co-ops, Freedom Windmills.
For one powerful pathway within nonviolent transformation –- perhaps more powerful even than blocking major highways — is lifting up what we imagine as the future of full justice — what Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community — and making it happen in the present.