Eric Garner’s Death: I know I can’t be silent

eric-garnerI am angry. I am mortified. I am distraught.

The miscarriage of justice in the death of Eric Garner puts another spotlight on what our nation says to Black men today in 2014: Your life is not valued. 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. 50 years after the Civil Rights Act. 6 years after the election of Barack Obama. And where have we gotten?

Regardless of the immediate events that led to Eric Garner’s death in New York, Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Tamir Rice’s death in Cleveland, or Rumain Brisbon’s death in Phoenix, the fact remains that every 28 hours a Black man is killed by the police. As Eric Garner said in his last words, “this stops today.” And we must heed that call. We simply cannot survive as a society when only some of us are free.

That is a deep lesson that we learn from the global community, none more so than the Jesuit martyrs in El Salvador who understood that we can never experience true justice and freedom, until those who are marginalized and oppressed are free.

In the Ignatian family, we learn to use Ignatian pedagogy to make sense or act on issues of justice. This process calls on us to know our context, have a lived experience, reflect, act, and evaluate. It is deeply useful. But in these circumstances one challenge faces me in this process: Experience.

As a White man living in the United States, I simply cannot comprehend or experience what Eric Garner went through. Despite all the empathy, I don’t have to suffer from the constant injustice that continues to play out in Black communities within our nation. I certainly never have to experience losing my dignity and life, simply for my race. Nor do I have to worry about teaching my daughter, Anna that she has to walk a certain way, or act a certain way for fear that she will be harassed.

So I cannot say – “I understand” or I know this experience. But I know I cannot be silent. Silence means consent, and we cannot consent to systematic racial injustice. How can we move forward to be in solidarity with those suffering from loss of life and injustice from a legal system that isn’t protecting all of us, yet something we truly can’t experience?

We need to learn the context that is driving this injustice. These deaths show our racial injustice is much more than personal discrimination. It is systemic, structural, and rooted in a nuanced and complex set of institutional and governmental policies that have created the situation we find ourselves into today. For example, housing policies of the 1950s and mortgage practices in the last two decades have deepened the segregation of our neighborhoods. Isolation from others compounds our implicit bias and leads us to act out of fear, seeing others as unequal.

The police, as an institution, plays out this bias – young black men disproportionately profiled, stopped and frisked, given much heavier jail sentences for a simple marijuana charge, and gunned down compared to young white men. This isn’t about the officer, because these injustices are not isolated incidences. So it is much bigger than individual action. This is about the policies and practices within a larger institution and a legal system that doesn’t see people as equal. It means we, as a nation, must find ways to create solutions that are driven by the premise that Black Lives Matter too. And we need to find solutions that create structural transformation, and that means overhauling our criminal justice system as a whole.

So how can we act in solidarity?

As a father I look to Anna for her compassion.   Only 16 months old and she holds more compassion for others that is far beyond my grasp. And Kate and I must find ways to foster that compassion and teach her about injustice and implicit bias so she can be a better person in the world than I am.

As an advocate, it means that we must stand and act in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are suffering these traumatizing times. That action could be in standing side by side in the streets, it could be to help donate resources or time to support the leadership of youth of color who are demanding a new tomorrow.

And as a White person, it means challenging ourselves to understand our position of power and influence and how we act in spaces with communities of color. And it means giving away our power to those who have been marginalized so that they can lead the solutions that will create a more just and fair society.

1 reply
  1. Tom Grech
    Tom Grech says:

    Major disagree…totally one sided argument…..try a different perspective:

    By Lt Daniel Furseth

    Today, I stopped caring about my fellow man. I stopped caring about my community, my neighbors, and those I serve. I stopped caring today because a once noble profession has become despised, hated, distrusted, and mostly unwanted.

    I stopped caring today because parents refuse to teach their kids right from wrong and blame us when they are caught breaking the law. I stopped caring today because parents tell their little kids to be good or “the police will take you away” embedding a fear from year one. Moms hate us in their schools because we frighten them and remind them of the evil that lurks in the world.

    They would rather we stay unseen, but close by if needed, but readily available to “fix their kid.” I stopped caring today because we work to keep our streets safe from mayhem in the form of reckless, drunk, high, or speeding drivers, only to be hated for it, yet hated even more because we didn’t catch the drunk before he killed someone they may know.

    Nevertheless, we are just another tool used by government to generate “revenue.” I stopped caring today because Liberals hate the police as we carry guns, scare kids, and take away their drugs. We always kill innocent people with unjust violence. We are called bullies for using a Taser during a fight, but are condemned further for not first tasing the guy who pulls a gun on us.

    And if we do have to shoot, we are asked “why didn’t you just shoot the gun out of their hand?” And when one of us is killed by the countless attacks that do happen (but are rarely reported in the mainstream media) the haters say, “Its just part of the job.” I stopped caring today because Conservatives hate us as we are “the Government.” We try to take away their guns, freedoms, and liberty at every turn.

    We represent a “Police State” where “jackbooted badge-wearing thugs” randomly attack innocent people without cause or concern for constitutional rights. We are Waco, Ruby Ridge, and Rodney King all rolled into one lone police officer stopping to help change an old lady’s tire. I stopped caring today as no one wants us around, but instantly demands answers, results, arrests, when a crime takes place.

    If a crime isn’t solved within the allocated 60 minutes it takes CSI on television, we are inept, incompetent, or covering something up. If we do get “lucky” it was just that and everyone with a Facebook account can post wonderful comments of how “they” would solve the case and how “we” are not nearly as clever.

    I stopped caring today because a video of a cop six states away, from a department that you never heard of, screws up and forgets his oath of honor, thus firing up an internet lynch-mob of cop haters even though 99% of us work twice as hard not to end up in the news and to still be “the good guys.” We are “militarized” because we wear body armor and kevlar helmets when shots are fired or rocks thrown at us and carry scary looking rifles even though everyone knows that they are easier to shoot and are more accurate than a handgun or a shotgun.

    I stopped caring today because the culture of today’s instantly connected youth is only there to take and never give back. To never accept responsibility for ones actions, but to blame everyone else instead of themselves. To ask “what is in it for me?” versus “what can I do for you?”

    To idolize gangsters, thugs, sexually promiscuous behavior, and criminals over hard work, dedication, and achievement. To argue that getting stoned should be a right, yet getting a job or an education is a hassle. To steal verus earn. To hate versus help. Yes, I stopped caring today. But tomorrow, I will put my uniform back on and I will care again.


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