Saturday, October 1, 2016

Driving Out the Darkness

Our world is drowning in violence. Terrorism, rape, homicide, police brutality, and the aggressive responses such attacks foster in a social existence that is tired of the blood bath we've been wading in. Anger is of course the natural reflex that surges when we see our families, friends, and countrymen harmed by a perceived outsider, and even more so when they're hurt by the very system intended to protect us. But what dangers could this fury unleash when left unbridled in the hands of a nation scorned? What could we possibly accomplish with the draconian eye for an eye mentality that leaves us blind beyond the pupils of our enemy? There are many battles to fight, but there are many paths to victory, and the descending spiral of violence is not one of them.

Many arguments in the history of the world have been settled by war in one respect or another, but while they led to ceasefires and peace agreements, they rarely led to harmony and tranquility. More recently, the wars waged across the geographical lines of international borders have raged on without any possibility of resolution in sight. The war on ISIS and Al Qaeda, the Boko Haram Insurgency, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict have been battling on for years and even decades, with millions dead and more dying every year. Even here in the US, internal combats have spattered our streets with blood thanks to gang wars, drug wars, gun violence, racism, homophobia, and yes, even police brutality.

In a country where law enforcement has been given the ultimate power to protect the innocent civilians of the US, it seems the long arm of the law too often sees color beyond Justice's blindfold, and reaches for the firearm on its hip too quickly. As a result, several innocent black lives have been lost. Violations of the law that include being in the wrong place at the wrong time, following directions, lying motionless on the ground, placing your hands in the air are all things that can get you killed when you are the wrong color in this country. Especially if you are confronted with the misfortune of having a police officer who is quicker to reach for more lethal means beyond a taser or pepper spray.

Of course every time, and far too often, when these stories splash across my computer screen, when they haunt the water cooler at work, the anger rises in my chest, bitter as bile. While I admit I have never faced the onslaught of violence and aggression the boys and girls in blue deal with on a daily basis, I have worked in high intensity environments, where individuals were unstable and as such became violent and aggressive towards themselves, towards others, and towards staff, including me. We were taught (minimally) how to address these attacks, usually involving a quick ProACT restraint, tackling the client to the ground, holding them in place as they writhed and struggled beneath our grips. We fielded globs of spit as they flew in the general direction of our faces, we shifted our hands so they were just out of the reach of their gnashing teeth, we fought to gain and regain control of their flailing arms and legs as we were punched, kicked in the the face and the chest. Sometimes we had to wrestle potential weapons from them, including broken shards of glass, broken bottles, and rocks. Our safety and well being was endangered. Many staff ended up in the emergency room with cuts, abrasions, bleeding bite marks, and concussions. But at the end of the day, we understood this was the job.

We worked with psychologically disturbed clients. Granted the facility was not well run and the clients were out of control, but still we did our best to keep the peace with the little training we had. We were not afforded tasers, pepper spray, batons, or cuffs and certainly not granted guns. We had many opportunities to lose our cool in the heat of the moment and lash out at our attackers, we had every reason to panic in the many crises that flooded our hallways. I even developed mild PTSD after being strangled at work. But this was the job. This is what we signed up for. And this is what police officers sign up for every day when they put on the badge. Now of course I am not asking them to risk their lives, and if the gun is genuinely necessary, they must do what they have to do. But with the extensive training they have to de-escalate and manage crises and the multiple tools in their belt they can work with, what excuse do they have for impulse, for panic, for repeated deadly force?

I can't wrap my head around it. I never could. But as angry as I get, I understand that violence is not the answer. Fighting brutality with brutality brings no calm to the tumultuous sea of our society, but adds to the confusion, the irrationality, and the impulsive decisions that can completely destroy the remaining scaffolding of our crumbling world. In spite of the overwhelming desire to bash in the heads of the guilty parties across the nation, I understand that killing innocent officers during a protest is not a solution. Assaults and arrests are not the solution. Rioting and looting is not the solution. Much like the result of police brutality, violence breeds nothing more than distrust, suspicion, and fear. There are thousands of peaceful demonstrators in the Black Lives Matter movement, but the more aggressive members seek to garner attention, notoriety, progress and respect, these intimidation tactics only breed deep-seated trepidation which will eventually turn to animosity and onward toward hostility. Blame will be placed, distrust will grow, the Us vs. Them mentality will thrive, and violence will build in an ever-growing cycle until it becomes an unstoppable force; before the nation is swallowed in a bloody tidal wave.

Violence begets violence. Martin Luther King, one of the more prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement built his legacy on non-violent approaches to challenging the constructs of social injustice in the 1960s. There were several other leaders in the movement who made their own contributions, but aside from Malcolm X, they have not been as prominent, and unlike Malcolm X, MLK made his lasting mark in history without the "any means necessary" tactics. There were sit-ins, there were boycotts, there were peaceful marches that garnered the attention and the notoriety the movement deserved in order to facilitate change. Many people have turned to his teachings and cited his speeches in their tireless arguments for peaceful battles, not because they're trying to change history or "whitewash" the violence out of it, but simply out of desire to follow the path that he cleared through the decades. Because it was the better path of the two laid out before us.

Now in the midst of these desperate pleas for peaceful strategies, I was called complacent, accused of indifference because I wasn't angry enough to be aggressive. I was even told that my opinion on the ineffectiveness of violence was invalid and unwarranted because I'm not black, and I don't have the right to criticize the way black people address their own issues. I don't need to be black to know that violence is not the answer; I don't need to be violent to prove that I care. I can be and will be a peaceful warrior in fostering change in the world, because this is my tactic: to avoid adding a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.

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