It needs to be repeated strongly at the outset. Any shooting by a policeman, or of a policeman, or any shooting at all is a tragedy. Any violence at all is a tragedy, and a result of the brokenness and suffering in the world, the pollution of sin and rebellion. That needs to be said, I think repeatedly. It’s tragic, it’s bad, it’s never good. It isn’t justice, it doesn’t help, it isn’t the solution we are looking for.
What I want to say is this: When people are desperate, they turn to these kinds of options. Shooting up schools, blowing up buildings, killing policemen. When people feel like they have no stake or ownership in a community, they will rip it apart. You don’t see riots in places where people feel as though their fate is bound together with that community. You don’t see bombings in places where people are socially and politically heard, interconnected, content, and where they have lots of other options. You sometimes still see self-destructive behavior in individuals who have other options, but it is so exceedingly rare. How many fewer drug dealers, prostitutes, thefts, and other destructive (to the self and to the community) would there be if there was a surplus of jobs, means to connect socially and communally, and if people had a strong sense of belonging and purpose?
There are massive sections of our communities who feel no sense of belonging – because they don’t belong. There are huge groups of individuals who feel they have been ignored in our society for our entire history – because they have been ignored. There are men and women who are striking out with violence towards the wrong people because they believe they have no other options – and they have no other options. If we take an honest appraisal of our world, there are comparatively fewer options for some of our people. The fate of people of color and the poor is totally independent, separated, from the fate of the elite. What happens to the poor and black communities in our country is invisible to the political, social, and economic elite. And vice versa. There’s no connection in any way there. There is no common ground for them to even talk about these issues, or even a rhetorical common ground. The voices of one group are largely ignored in the media while the other voices, those of the elite, essentially make up the whole of the media’s storytelling. What options do black men and women, and all people of color have to make their voices heard? What options do they have to address the not-so-recent issues with the systems that make up our society?
That question makes no sense to people with a voice. You can get a lawyer and sue, people with a voice say. You can organize and band together, you can call your congressman, you can boycott, you can have some perspective – things aren’t so bad. The reality of the situation in poor communities is so completely invisible that questions like “What options do I have” are total nonsense to those outside of those places.
The end result of having millions of people on the outside looking in, in our society, is desperation. Riots, violence, crime, political assassinations, snipers shooting police, these are the logical conclusion of people with no hope, and with no shared interest with the larger society. Oppressed people turn on themselves, as the poor have done in this country since the beginning, but eventually it spills over. This is what happens when people believe they have no other options.