Have you ever lived without hope?

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Watching the demonstrations in Baltimore is a lot like watching the riots of the 1960s or the Rodney King protests.

I’ve never been caught in the middle of a violent demonstration, but I can understand the fear that anyone might feel. I also understand the frustration that drives people to such drastic measures.

I don’t condone violence, but I do understand what drives it. It is a lack of hope that things will ever get better. It comes from living in fear that you or someone you live will be next.

These victims of police violence are not thugs — the cops are the ones acting as thugs when they shoot unarmed people or beat someone who already has been subdued.

There have been far too many deaths of young black men in this country. There has been far too much oppression.

The school-to-prison pipeline is real, especially in poor, largely minority communities. Teens can be sent to jail for missing school, and once they’re in the “justice” system, they’re in it for good.

Or let’s say you’re driving while black and you have a tail light out (a friend of mine had his tail light knocked out by a police officer who had just pulled him over for no reason). You don’t have the money to pay the fine and court costs because you work two part-time, low-wage jobs, so you wind up getting your fines increased and losing your license. Now you have no transportation to and from work because the buses don’t run late at night when you need them. So, you lose your job.

Since you haven’t paid your fines, which are increasing by the week, a warrant is issued for your arrest. The cops show up, and you’re headed for jail.

Now your spouse and kids are in a real financial mess. Your teenage son gets angry and starts acting out, and he’s arrested. The cops see him as a threat so they tackle him and cuff and shackle him. He shouts an obscenity and the cops start kicking him, injuring or even killing him.

With only one income, your spouse and your other child become homeless.

This happens all the time in poor neighborhoods. People are jailed for the crime of being poor, and when they finally rise up against the violence perpetrated on them, the privileged classes are more upset about the burning buildings than about the lives lost.

I worked hard for everything I have, but I’m white. I was raised in a white middle-class town by middle-class white parents. No one sees me as a threat because I’m not one of the people who has been oppressed for generations.

It’s not easy putting yourself in the shoes of someone whose entire experience is so different from your own, but it’s time we tried.

Unlike many white, middle-class people, I know what it’s like to live without hope. I’ve been there. I know the desperation.

As I said, I don’t condone the violence, but I certainly do understand it.

Before you call these black youths thugs and criminals, try to imagine what your attitude would be in their situation, and then understand that being a petty criminal wouldn’t bring the death penalty down on you.

I will defend these people against the abusive and violent system that keeps them down because Black Lives Matter. All Lives Matter. These police killings are no different from the lynchings of the Jim Crow era, and I understand the need of people to rise up against them. They are fighting for their very survival.

Violence begets violence. We need to remember that.

“No justice, no peace!”

njnpNo justice, no peace.

The first time I heard those words, I was disturbed.

Was it a call for armed revolution? Was it an invitation to overthrow the current order?

As it turns out, it is neither.

It is a call to treat all human beings with respect.

As it is, people in this country live without hope of things ever getting better. Unless you have experienced hopelessness, you can not understand what it can do to a person.

Let’s say you live in a poor neighborhood where there are few, if any jobs. You’re told if you stay in school things will get better, but you stay in school and you’re still treated as though your life doesn’t matter.

People with authority and power treat you as though you’re worthless. They can stop and frisk you for no reason and shoot to kill if you don’t comply.

It’s completely arbitrary. You can walk through the neighborhood one day and get stopped and humiliated the next.

When you walk into a store, people assume you’re there to steal and you get followed as you browse.

These indignities add up, one by one, day after day.

Michael Brown stayed in school and was about to start college, but that didn’t give him immunity from being shot six times by a white police officer.

The prosecutor said the police officer saw that Michael Brown matched the description that had been sent out as someone who had robbed a convenience store.

First of all, it has been established already that the officer did not have the description, and that, although there was an altercation at the store, the film appears to show Michael Brown putting money on the counter.

Second, if Michael Brown did steal cigars, that should not mean he gets the death penalty.

This is what I mean about living without hope that things will ever get better.

This child’s body lay on the street for four and a half hours. Is it any wonder that residents of Ferguson believe the police were fixing “evidence” while he lay there?

How can anyone be at peace when they live with the disrespect these human beings face every day?

Meanwhile, the people with power have to protect what they have. They have to make it appear that Michael Brown deserved to die and that the officer was completely justified in using deadly force.

How can they have any sense of peace when they’re living in fear of an uprising because of the injustices they perpetrate?

When I say, “No justice, no peace,” I mean that we can’t have peace on either side as long as part of the population lives with intimidation and fear, underpaid, disrespected and with no hope of anything changing.

Had Darryl Wilson been indicted and a trial held, even if he was exonerated, at least there would have been an open debate about what happened. We might not have been happy with the results, but there would have been at least a modicum of respect for Michael Brown and his family.

Instead, he will walk away, his actions condoned. That sends a powerful message to people whose lives are affected every day by indignities and disrespect. When you remove hope from someone’s life, they have nothing to lose by lashing out in anger. Their neighborhood feels like a prison, so what do what have to lose by rioting and lighting fires?

We can’t live in peace if a minority of the population spends all its time trying to protect itself and its power and wealth by denying the rights of others to live a decent life.

Things won’t get better until we truly understand the meaning of “No justice, no peace” as a call to respect others and not as a call to rebellion and violence.

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