The story about what happened in Flint, Michigan last night is an extremely powerful one.
When protesters met Sheriff Chris Swanson and fellow law enforcement officers he asked, “We are mad too! What can we do?”
This is the result…
(Photos courtesy of Leni Kei Photogrpahy) pic.twitter.com/FfAHOx5EYH
— Dillon Gaudet (@DGaudetWBOY) May 31, 2020
Last night, while watching the “PBS Newshour,” one story sparked a reaction in me that has been far too rare in recent months:
The story focused on Chris Swanson, Sheriff of Genesee County, who led the police response to protests in Flint, Michigan. In a last-minute decision, Sheriff Swanson ordered his officers to remove their riot gear and lay down their batons. He told protestors, “The only reason we’re here is to make sure that you got a voice—that’s it.”
When the crowd starting chanting for him to “walk with us,” he did, resulting in a peaceful march through Flint—police walking with protestors.
Instead of responding to a volatile situation with hostility and violence, Swanson chose to respond with vulnerability (his word) and tolerance. The result was three days of peaceful protests with no injuries and no arrests. Without the cover of a police crackdown on demonstrators, opportunistic looters had no chance to rob and vandalize businesses.
This is our way out of these dark times: more actions like these, people choosing to follow their hearts instead of the rules of engagement. When we meet conflict with cooperation instead of hostility, when we work together with people on the other side instead of reflexively fighting against our adversaries, then we can make progress.
Swanson said he made the decision in the spur of the moment. He knew it was tactically the wrong move to make, but his heart told him it was the right thing to do. He’s showing us a way toward peaceful resolution of the totally f*cked-up race relations in our country by meeting those on the other side with tolerance instead of enmity.
Contrast that with Trump’s response—urging governors to “dominate” the protestors, call in the military to totally suppress demonstrations, and enforce a police state.
Responding to a peaceful demonstration with a show of force turns an orderly protest into a riot. When people are outraged by a legacy of systemic oppression, additional violent oppression is only going to inflame the situation, as we’re seeing in many cities.
The answer to anger and violence is not more anger and violence. The answer is compassion.
“Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” These words are as true today as they were when first spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr.
The violence rocking our country now is just one symptom of the overall atmosphere of intolerance plaguing the world right now. Divisions stacked on divisions are literally engulfing our nation in flames right now.
The entire social discourse is currently dominated by hostility. We’re divided into opposing camps of blood enemies: Republicans versus Democrats, Trump supporters versus Trump haters, personal liberty versus public health (e.g. lockdowns), gun rights versus public safety. Everywhere, the interaction is dominated by conflict. One side says something, the other side instantly fights it.
There is no dialogue, hence there is no progress, no resolution, only continued fighting.
From the top down, we need a drastic change in how we relate to people with opposing viewpoints. Our politicians, on both sides of the aisle, need to stop acting like bratty children and treat each other like civilized adults. All of us, when facing another person on the opposite side of an issue, need to start acting like decent human beings instead of scared animals.
It doesn’t matter who started it, or who is to blame. What matters is that the world is stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle of conflict and violence that is hurting everyone.
Yes, the issues we’re facing now are dire, but screaming about the stupidity of those we view as causing the problems doesn’t solve anything. What we need more of in the world is tolerance.
Yes, the systemic racism and oppression in our country needs to change, now. But demonizing those on the other side only widens the divide, it does nothing to solve the problem.
Those “others” are not going away. The only way to resolve the gaping chasms between diametrically opposed groups is by viewing our opponents as humans. They may hold viewpoints that feel confusing to us, but they are still fellow humans.
To quote Voltaire, one of the prominent philosophers of the Enlightenment, an age when humanity dragged itself out the Dark Ages:
“What is tolerance? It is the necessary consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error, let us pardon each other’s folly—that is the first law of nature.”
We’re all human. The only way out of this f*cking mess we’re in now is to treat each other with respect and work together to find a common solution. #WalkWithUs
For more suggestions on how you can help end racism, check this out.