How do advocates for racial justice move forward after Dallas?

Just before I was going to go to bed tonight, I saw news of several police officers being shot in Dallas during a Black Lives Matter protest. As the story developed, I watched in horror the news of at least eleven officers shot and four dead by two snipers with high-powered rifles. By tomorrow, we’ll know more information. We’ll likely wake up to knowledge about who conducted the shooting and why, and we might (though I pray not) learn of more police officers or other individuals killed or injured.

As with so many instances of horrific violence lately, there are no words. To see any lives claimed by senseless violence (and I believe that all violence is senseless) is indescribably tragic. No doubt, these officers did much to serve and protect their communities. No doubt, they had loved ones whose lives will be forever changed. Jesus reminds us that blessed are those who mourn. So today, we must stand with their mourning families.

This is uncomplicated: murder is evil, violence is evil. Unequivocally, this was wrong, senseless, and shameful.

Yet of course, this moment is made woefully complicated in another sense by the Black Lives Matter protest during which it unfolded. As I’m writing this, we don’t know whether this shooting was connected to the ongoing protests in Dallas or if the shooter had grievances against police connected with the deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and so many of Black men and women at the hands of police.

These are things we will learn with time. We may learn that this shooting had nothing to do with police violence, but was the doing of people with an ax to grind against the police who saw an opportunity and took it. Clearly, this was a planned ambush, not the doing of a crowd lost in anger. Regardless, we must not forget that the protests in Dallas and across the nation were nonviolent, and these acts of violence have nothing to do with the black lives matter movement and don’t represent a legitimate struggle for justice. Since its beginning, black lives matter has been a nonviolent movement that has rejected the use of force or violence. This was not sanctioned by any legitimate justice actor.

I have been unapologetic and outspoken in insisting that Black lives matter. This shooting does nothing to change the fact that Sterling, Castile, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and countless other black people have been victims of a pattern of racist policing in the United States. I have no plans to change my tone or beliefs on demanding racial justice and comprehensive police reform.

But Jesus blesses those who mourn, so tonight I stand with the mourning families of the police officers who died or are still fighting for their lives. And I stand with the mourning families of Sterling and Castile. It is because I oppose violence that I participate in Black lives matter. It is because I oppose violence that I denounce any violence against police.

If the shooters in this case were trying to advance the cause of racial justice, they have hurt their cause beyond anything words can describe. They have sullied the reputation of a nonviolent movement for racial justice. They have tarnished the names of Sterling, Castile, and so many others. As advocates for justice, we must be of one voice in denouncing violence and offering prayer and comfort to the injured officers and the family of those officers who died. Nonviolence is the only appropriate tool in the fight for justice. It is only by refusing to be violent that we can ever hope to achieve social change.

As people of faith, we must be the first to stand for racial justice, and we must be the first to demand peace and oppose any attempts at violence. There are no words except for the living word of God: Jesus Christ, the prince of peace.

I am reminded of how Jesus advocated that the oppressed people of his day handle the state actors that wielded the sword of oppression. In Matthew 5:41, Jesus says, “If anyone forces you to walk one mile, walk with them two miles.” He was referring to the occupying presence of Roman soldiers, who would force Jews to carry their supplies, but only had the legal authority to make someone carry their supplies for one mile.

By advising occupied Jews to go two miles, Jesus showed oppressed Jews how to expose the evils of oppression by magnifying its damage by doubling the penalty. But Jesus’ advice also empowered Jews in this situation by giving them the final say in their actions, instead of the occupying soldiers. Finally, by walking two miles, Jews and soldiers had more time to break down the dividing walls of oppression. There was more time for Roman soldier and Jew to see one another as human beings rather than oppressor and oppressed.

Again, words fail in a situation like this. I don’t have all the answers. But this is a moment upon which we must prayerfully reflect upon the words of Christ. He brought good news to the poor, and freedom to the oppressed. But instead of coming as a warrior and wielding a sword, he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and preached peace and nonresistance.

And he came not just as a messiah for the downtrodden, but as the savior of all people, Jew and Gentile, Roman soldier and Jewish subject alike. We must work for justice, but we must also strive for reconciliation. Violence is our enemy, not one another.

May we keep these slain officers in our prayers. May we hold slain black lives in our prayers. May we prayerfully strive for truth and reconciliation. May we press on with nonviolent action. May we form a beloved community in which Black lives matter and no police officer fears to serve and protect.


podiumEmmett Eldred is a senior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and onFacebook.

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