“Would anyone want to stab an enemy with such force as to leave his own hand in the wound and be unable to recover himself from the blow? But such a weapon is anger; it is hard to draw back.” Seneca (De Ira 2.35.1)
The Ferguson protests have demonstrated vast differences in worldview between blacks and whites in the US. The Garner case in NYC sure didn’t help. Two camps emerge. The Christian church is no exception. The first camp, composed mostly of whites and Asians, says that rioting is always wrong. The second camp, composed mostly of blacks and other minorities, says that the whites do not understand the largely unjust treatment of blacks in this country especially in certain cities. Whether Michael Brown did this or that cannot be ascertained right now due to the complex and mixed reports coming out of Ferguson but the damage is done.
Let’s fly over to HK, the place where the Umbrella Movement had taken place and has finally ended for now. The injustice was very blatant there by many involved with the government or the police force. Many had shed blood over there as they seek justice and more freedom. All of this was painful to watch. Since I’m a lot more involved with HK, I’m beginning to learn more about Ferguson and the American blacks through HK.
Since I won’t get to HK until the movement was over, I really couldn’t be there to support it, but there hasn’t been a time when I thought, “What’s the point? What people need is to have a violent revolution in order to achieve democracy.” South Africa was a one-off. Both the US and France got their independence through a bloody revolution. Why not HK? I’m not here to discuss whether bloody revolution is the right means to democracy. That’s another book or two in Christian ethics. I’m here only to discuss the sentiment. I was angry and frustrated.
Below are some lessons I’ve learned from HK that also transfer to cases like Ferguson.
It is easy to talk about non-violence and anger when one isn’t involved. The fact is, those who aren’t involved intimately with events really haven’t earned the right to tell those involved how they should feel. I find many who say that the Ferguson protesters should behave this or that we have never been involved with cases of discrimination and even if they did, they were involved in cases where they were the privileged within the system of power rather than underprivileged and outside the system of power. It’s easy to be the moral armchair quarterback.
Imagine an enraged teenage boy who’s used to physical expression of his emotions. In frustration, he punches the wall. Unfortunately, the wall becomes the object he damages. Does that mean this kid is always bad and the summary of his character is the hole in the wall? Of course not, but those who have had teens know exactly what I’m talking about (just in case anyone wonders about my boys. They do not punch walls). The same goes for those who work with youths. I’ve seen perfectly sane kids from a church where I used to pastor do this. These are generally good kids, but when I get a call from the family (sometimes quite dysfunctional families) about this or that, I walk into holey walls and falling doors. Imagine a perfectly normal community having been discriminated and abused to the point of rage, much like this normally good child. You have Ferguson. I’m not saying all the rioters were like this normally good kid. Some weren’t, but certainly some upright citizens also did illogical things because of their rage.
One of the saddest stories I saw in the riot was this black woman who lost her cake shop from rioters. The good news is that someone had bothered to raise money for her. Instead of celebrating a good ending to the sad story, many of my white friends point out almost gleefully, “Look! Black on black crime.” Wait just a minute! If we look at the analogy above, the door or the wall is innocent, but it just happens to get in the way of an enraged teenage boy. While we can’t condone crime of any kind by any race against any other race or its own race, the dynamics are about the same. The shop of this black woman was like that door or the wall. It had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at that time. Rage is not rational. Neither is rage racially discerning but still, many victims of racism who are normally upstanding citizens are now hitting doors and walls.
Why do people feel angry? There’re two reasons based on what I’ve seen in HK and perhaps some of that applies to Ferguson and the racial situation. First, people feel hopeless and that’s why they contemplate the violent option. Second, people feel like no one is hearing what they’re saying. When discussing with my HK friends who contemplate the violent option, I hear their anger and hopelessness from the repeated government abuse and deliberate ignoring of their plea for justice.
Before we sit on our moral soapbox, I think it’s important to just shut up and look at the bigger picture. The crime that precedes the crime is the issue. The violent crime itself is just a smaller part of the picture. Sure, we can condemn violence and I often do, but that is not the big picture.
We should bring back a faith dimension to this discussion. When I watch a lot of my white and Asian evangelical Christian friends respond to Ferguson, I frankly feel very disappointed. We get a combination of condemnation and pontification in the guise of “Look, violent blacks. WE don’t do violence around here. It’s so unchristian.” When we’re in a faith community, in a time such as this, our job is to listen to the anger and the hurt. When I get a call on a teen beating down his own door, I don’t go there to say, “You, stop that crap! Don’t you know that Jesus wouldn’t approve?” If I did that, all communication channels will be closed for future pastoral care. What we need, in the post-Umbrella and post-Ferguson world is a faith community that will listen to the voice of the angry sufferer. Hurt can lead to anger, and anger can lead to further injury to the innocent whether the innocent comes in form of another black shop owner or a decent white police trying to do his or her job. We can’t heal a world of the hurt when we’re on our soapbox. In order to break the vicious cycle of hurt and anger, hearing and not pontificating can begin the healing process. Hurt, anger, hatred, and eventual violence hurt everyone involved. It’s time to get our faith community EQ to fall in line with our so-orthodox doctrines or all we’ll have left will be rules and regulations with our dead morality.