I am getting nostalgic for the good old days of protesting as I watch trailers for the new movie “Selma”. A violent strand now runs through many of the anti-police-brutality protests across the nation and poisons the legitimacy of the cause. Physical acts such as looting and the destruction of property are just as unacceptable as the violent verbal chants of some marchers. Attempts to link Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s murder of two New York police officers to the protests aggravates an already tense situation.
For the record, I am pro-protest. Overall, the anti-police-brutality demonstrators make me proud with their perseverance, instant organization via social media and their willingness to stand up for justice. The protests made our nation stop and realize that there are high numbers of unarmed black men killed by the police, and changes must be made. The protesters also made our nation reluctantly continue the painful conversation about racial inequities in America. I applaud them for the above.
Yet I can’t help but think back to the days of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his band of clerics. For them, protesting meant to pray, to put on your best clothes, and then to let God lead the way. They had a formula, based on Christ, that enabled them to protest without being violent or vile. They easily prayed for the police and the protesters. In fact, there were classes on how to protest, how to respond and what to say when harassed.
I am not naive. King’s movement was not without flaws, one of which was the exclusion of women from key leadership. But I think looking back could help us move ahead.
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Protesters back then knew that many of the police were against them, but they did not openly taunt or threaten the police. They prayed for their enemies. Today’s protesters must remember that being anti-police-brutality does not mean being anti-police. Violence toward police is not acceptable. The men and women of police forces across America put their lives on the line every day for our security, and we owe them respect and honor. When some of them cross the line and use excessive force, they must be held accountable, and a culture that is racist must be rooted out.
The protests of King’s era were church-based. Many marches assembled in churches for prayer before starting and met there afterward for more prayer. Dr. King and religious leaders of all colors and faith were positioned at the front of the march. Today, the voice of the faith community needs to be louder. If the church folk had been in the forefront, the inflammatory remarks by Michael Brown’s stepfather would have been quickly extinguished. If church folk were leading the New York march where some yearned for dead police, that vile chant would have been muffled.
While looking back provides momentary comfort, I understand that nostalgia is a yearning for what was. In honesty, I am yearning for what has not yet occurred: a nation free of racial strife, where neither old school nor new school protesters are necessary because, in the words of King, “We have all learned to dwell together as sisters and brothers, because we do not want to die like fools.”
Sheron Patterson is communications officer for the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. She wrote this for The Dallas Morning News.
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