At first, I wasn't planning on writing anything about the death of Alton Sterling. Not yet, anyway. I had planned on a write up next week, after the heat had died down. Then I saw the news of Philando Castile and it prompted a desire to provide my perspective on the events.
I have to admit that at first, my sadness was overun by my annoyance at the slacktivism that I saw on Facebook. I saw throngs of people incensed by the death of yet another black man, who weren't willing to do anything more than post something on Facebook about how upset they were. I do see the irony of complaining about that while I write a blogpost, but my perspective is a little broader than a simple call for change. Because this is SoCalCatholic, I wanted to write about how I, was a Catholic, was interpreting these events.
Before we get into the current deaths, I want to recall the death of Michael Brown. I was teaching a US History class at the time that the protests in Ferguson began. The events were on all of the students minds and were something that we spoke about quite often, until other events pushed that discussion out of our minds. But during those discussions it was clear that regardless of where they fell on the political spectrum or who they thought was really at fault, everybody felt a sense of injustice. Some students tried to justify the deaths, while others tried to justify the protests. And while some students felt the pain more than others, everybody was hurt.
It is painful to think that our system of government favors some over the others. It is painful be shown how our government can completely fail an entire demographic and not be held accountable. And yet it is becoming more and more evident that police will kill black people and will not be held accountable.
Some of my students applauded the introduction of body cameras. Cameras are not the answer. Videos have shown us brutality for decades and not led to convictions. I can remember being shown the video of police beating Rodney King when I was an adolescent and the LAPD being let off. This has been happening for years.
But my point isn't that we should accept it and just hope for the best or that we should just pray the problems away. Real change is necessary and it won't be easy.
As a Catholic, I am disturbed by the real lack of compassion for the death of people. Human beings have value endowed by God. We are all God's children and when one is killed for selling cigarettes, or selling tapes, or resisting arrest, it should hurt us. Due process of law should be adhered to and when it isn't, when there is a failure of government, we should be upset. But what do we do about it?
My first response if that as we mourn the loss of another life, we should be outraged that we keep having to deal with this issue. But unless we decide to get involved on a local level, we will not see the changes that we are searching for. We should get involved in our local governments. We should volunteer with local organizations. We should get to know the officials in our areas. We should get to know our local police officers, firefighters, teachers, and business owners. If we keep deferring to others to fix these problems, they will always exist. Our leaders are like us. They jump from crisis to crisis, always on reaction mode. As long as we put off responsibility to others, things won't change.
My second response is to remind us that we must avoid despair. As events, such as the deaths that occurred in the past few days, occur with more frequency, we might be inclined to despair. But if God offers us anything, it is hope. If we are hopeless, it is because we are not trusting in God. If we are despairing, we need to turn to God and submit to him. People are sinful. Evil occurs. But that doesn't negate God's goodness or his plan. We need to remember that we are saved because of God's mercy. Pope Francis said,
God's mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14). ...
Let us be renewed by God's mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform
our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth,
protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.
— Easter Urbi et Orbi message on March 31, 2013
If we are despairing is it because we are more focused on this world than the next? If we are feeling helpless, is it because we feel like we can't do anything to change this world? If things aren't changing is it because we aren't showing the mercy of Christ to the world?
We have to remember that we represent Christ to the world. We need to love our enemies and show mercy to those who seek to hurt us. This is not a message that will be received with much enthusiasm, especially after such heinous acts have been perpetrated upon a community over and over again. But Jesus tells us that "...all who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52, Revised Standard Version) Our response shouldn't be revolution, yet. We need to show compassion to all who suffer. We need to pray for those souls who have perished. We need to pray for the families. We need to pray for the killers. We need to spend time on our knees. We need to spend time in adoration. We need to remember Jesus example and preach the good news.
It would be easy to try to urge small changes that wouldn't amount to anything. It would be easy to wish away these violent acts. It would be easy to urge police to leave our communities alone. But I think the only way to affect true change is to engage. It is easy to forget about event like these because most Americans don't live with this sort of violence on a daily basis. Most of us are becoming immune to it as well, as we see death, bombings, and terrorism occurring on a daily basis. But if we engage, if we make our local authorities recognize us; if we get to know those who would just as soon, kill us, then we can affect change. So go out and meet your neighbor. Go out and say hello to people. Go out an engage with the world. Show them the love of Christ and we might start to see the change we are looking for sooner, rather than later.
It happens every Sunday. The Church will stand up after the consecrstion of the host. We will recite the "Our Father" (my daughter saying it slower and more forcefully than most). The choir will sing the "Agnus Dei" (by far my favorite hymn; especially when it is sung in Latin). Then comes the ackward. My family will bring down the kneelers once again and kneel, sometimes inconveniencing others in the pew with us. My son fidgets next to me and does a sitting kneel, where his posterior is fully supported by the pew, while his knees "rest" on the kneeler. I remind him that "God is up there" and he quickly falls into form. My family is usually alone in this action. Kneeling isn't normal anymore.