I’ve been waiting for over thirty years for this to happen, and I often wondered why it didn’t before now.
I’m referring to the death of George Floyd and the resulting demonstrations and riots. These are the inevitable outcomes of decades of police brutality, our injustice system, a twenty-first century form of slavery (penal institutions packed with poor people of color), the white nationalism that permeates large segments of our country, and a government that constantly ignores gun violence, police brutality, and our founding principle of liberty and justice for all.
When I heard the news, Jesus’s words in Matthew 10:34 popped into my mind: “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” This is a confusing statement to come from Jesus, but could a sword be the next step for our country?
I was raised in a black neighborhood, and I ministered to gang members and prisoners for much of my adult life. I have seen and felt the pent-up anger of so many marginalized people.
I recently heard former basketball champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar say that peaceful demonstrations have done nothing to change racism. That’s why I refuse to walk in peaceful demonstrations anymore—they don’t create change. Protests that rely on thousands of people carrying signs and chanting slogans while walking nicely through a city haven’t made a difference since the Vietnam War demonstrations—those often turned nasty, but they produced change.
Back to Jesus and the sword. Kareem was right: trying to change horrible injustices through peaceful means has changed nothing. Will people turn to the sword next?
Kareem also said that the racism in this country is like dust—it’s everywhere. The dust is especially bad in the White House and Congress. If racism hadn’t taken root there, then all these injustices would have been corrected back in the 1960s. Sixty years and thousands of deaths later, racism still flourishes.
I’ve noticed that most politicians, religious leaders, and pundits keep talking about how awful the rioters are. I haven’t heard one word about how awful the same leaders are for refusing to fix homelessness, our judicial system, poverty, racism, ghetto housing, and societal inequities.
They are the real culprits, not the rioters, most of whom see no hope for a meaningful future—just more police brutality, beat ’em down and lock ’em up mentality, lack of justice, and being forced to live in substandard conditions.
This June, I see the sword (strong tactics from demonstrators) becoming the new agent of change. This transformation will be painful. Lives will be lost and social divisions will deepen, but the protests will probably be less costly in the long run than a revolution. Now is the time to take the final step toward resolving the huge inequities in our nation. Without big changes in how our society treats people of color, we may face a civil war – the privileged versus the marginalized. People will only tolerate so much oppression.
Which do you think will win the day and change our country for the better—peace or the sword?