We do not love ourselves. We have become cavalier with each other’s lives and we, as a nation, have not yet decided that we have reached the point where we will now practice willful and strategic eradication of the complex character that makes us an unloving society.
“We live in a time when the disregard for human lives in general is astoundingly sanctioned by a legal system that fails all of us when black and brown and native lives are taken and no one is responsible.“
Let me be clear, the kind of love I am talking about is not romantic. It is a love forged out of the gospel call to dig deep into our innards and find the spaces of compassion sequestered there, to pull them out into our social and political lives to create a society that values the great diversity of folks that shape us into a nation. The kind of love we tend to practice is not this kind of love—it is hoarding. It is protecting what we have, protecting who we are, circling the wagons around our ideas and beliefs, failing to look up and out into the faces of the many-ness of this country.
So, once again, this sad state of hoarding and violence has coalesced. In the midst of the myriad injustices that make up everyday life for far too many of us and a world that is a spinning top of wars and its brother and sister forms of violence, the first anniversary of the Charleston massacre was marked by the blood of queer lives and the collateral damage done to their families and friends and the many of us who were horrified that someone would gun people down in cold blood for little reason beyond violent hatred and loathing.
We live in a time when the disregard for human lives in general is astoundingly sanctioned by a legal system that fails all of us when black and brown and native lives are taken and no one is responsible; when we recoil in horror at the massacre of 49 folk in Pulse Night Club who were LGBTQIA, but we cannot get Congress to enact common-sense gun control laws because of an overly zealous (and idiosyncratic) reading of the Second Amendment. This inept brand of politics has caused us to stumble into what has become a halting democracy rather than a vibrant one.
We are living in a world and a nation in which we have to say over and over again that #blacklivesmatter as we view the videos of Alton B. Sterling’s death at the hands of two Baton Rouge police officers or Philando Castile’s death at the hand of one police officer in Falcon Heights. It is a shame that Black folk and our allies have been saying this since this country became a republic and united itself around the notion of freedom.
“The murders of Sterling and Castile reveal the awful fact that this brand of tragedy has become routine. The videos of their deaths allow us to bear witness, but it will not necessarily bring justice.”
But we began this on the bad foot of Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution of 1787 that declared that, for purposes of representation in Congress, enslaved Blacks in a state would be counted as three-fifths of the number of white inhabitants of that state. Enslavement written into our founding document is something we have never fully reckoned with as a nation. And we have been reaping this bad seed of a beginning ever since while trying to ignore the fact that we do not legally, politically, socially, or theologically practice the belief that all lives matter.
The murders of Sterling and Castile reveal the awful fact that this brand of tragedy has become routine. The videos of their deaths allow us to bear witness, but it will not necessarily bring justice. And it is not justice when a sniper guns down police officers in Dallas or opens fire outside of Bristol, Tenn., with the intent of killing police officers. Vigilante justice, no matter who is doing it, is not justice. It will not bring in the world of respect for all lives I believe most of us believe in and yearn for and are trying to figure out how to bring into being.
But our lack of love for ourselves and each other, our ease with killing one another, our justification for taking lives has pointed us in a wrong-heading notion of what living and maintaining a civil society is all about. Due process at the end of a gun barrel will not get us to the country and world we want. Neither will disregarding lives because we have bought into a fantastic hegemonic imagination that tells us that people are dangerous and an ominous threat if we do not know or understand them—so best to shoot first and not be held accountable later. It causes the anger and despair of watching folks get killed over and over again and deciding that the only response is to take up a gun and begin killing police officers as a warped retributive justice.
We must stop and look at ourselves—all of us. Take an account of how we sanction or contribute to the madness that has overtaken us—a calculating, hoarding madness that fails to take in the complexity of this nation and our world. The rising death toll and the classism, sexism, racism, heterosexist, trans-sexism, militarism, and more that fuel this disregard for human lives will not stop the violence until we decide to stop them and then act to make it so.