By: Jarrod Cochran
I was driving home from work when I heard about the eruption of protests in Baltimore over the death of 25 year-old Freddie Gray while in police custody. As I began to get a barrage of texts and posts on social media about the riots, I chewed it over in my mind and came up with something I felt was extremely eloquent to write about it. After I arrived home, I forgot those expressive words and stared at my blank computer screen. I began to give up and close the laptop thinking, "If you don't have something important to say, don't just run your mouth." That thought process sounds "right" on the surface. However, if we dig a little deeper, we see an ugly root.
It is the Church's silence on the things that matter that has allowed so much ugliness in the forms violence, war, oppression, prejudice—all borne out of hatred and fear—to become manifest. Use your words. Use your body. Get in the way of violence and injustice. Take a stand.
Just because you do not have the writing or oratory skills of Thoreau or Lucy Parsons does not mean that what you say matters less. Simply declaring that what is occurring in the world is wrong and taking a stand to make it right means more than a million good and eloquent intentions that never produced an action. When we are silent on the things that matter, we have already sided with the oppressor. It is with this understanding that I write to you now.
As a follower of Jesus, as one who takes the Sermon on the Mount seriously, I am a pacifist. As one who takes this position, naturally, I do not advocate violence. But I also know that we need to look at the root causes of a problem before we simply condemn. Let us look at the riots in Baltimore, for example. Our black sisters and brothers may have gained our nation’s collective attention from the events of Ferguson and NYC, but it has not stopped cops from murdering them.
Rioting, violence, and destruction merely perpetuates the cycle of violence. It does not take a scholar to understand this. However, I think when we curse and damn the rioters while ignoring the catalyst for the behavior: their children, parents, friends, and siblings being continually harassed, threatened, beaten, and killed by the cops, we do a disservice to all.
And while we are on the subject of condemning riots, who remembers the 2014 riots in Denver, Colorado because a football team lost? What about the San Francisco riots in 2012 because their baseball team won? Does anyone remember the 2010 riot in Tennessee because Lane Kiffin was no longer the University’s coach? What about the Pennsylvania riot in 2011 because Penn State fired “Poppa Jo” for ignoring sexual abuse? Do we remember these predominantly white riots? The riots I just mentioned all had to do with sports teams—things that are inconsequential to every day survival. The riots were not in response to someone’s death—no one was killed unjustly. Do we remember these riots? No, they fade quickly from our minds and our cable news segments. However, if we are to bring up the riots that occurred after Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered or after Rodney King was assaulted, almost anyone can tell you where they were and then proceed to wag their finger.
I have to be honest with you: If you're more outraged about the broken windows of stores than you are over the broken neck that started the Baltimore riots, then you really need to look at your priorities and reread your holy texts.
During my eleven years as a firefighter, chaplain, and emergency medical technician (EMT), I have learned a great deal about medicine and the human body. I can tell you about keto acidosis and a myriad of other technical terms. I can look at an EKG of your heart and tell you what type of cardiac rhythm you are displaying. However, I can tell you that even the most rudimentary understanding of health and treating ailments provides you with an understanding that you cannot stop an infection by taking aspirin— you have to remove the cause of the infection. Do you wish to stop riots and civil unrest? Then, eradicate the root causes.
As a former firefighter, I have had the opportunity to talk with quite a few police officers that I have known throughout my career over the repeated incidents of cops killing unarmed minorities. It’s a long discussion, but they all end the same way: they all agree that these cops we hear about in Baltimore, Ferguson, and countless other cities, are guilty of murder—that these cops you see on the news do target black people. What I am also told is that most cops do not share these murderous and prejudiced desires.
“That’s great,” I tell them, “but simply disagreeing is not enough.” Until this so-called “silent majority” speaks up and out against the brutality of their fellow officers, nothing will change. Until “the blue wall of silence” is toppled, the violence will continue.
The Civil Rights Era has never ended, this is merely the next phase. Jesus has called upon us to be a voice for the voiceless and the advocate for the poor and oppressed. This is not a game—there is no sideline, there are no spectator seats. As followers of God's kingdom, we have two choices: we are either in the middle of conflict, displaying radical love towards the marginalized and the oppressors or we have sided with perpetrators of injustice.
Use your voice. Take a stand.
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