August 28, 1963. A man named Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and spoke these words: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” . . . I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
I read those powerful words for the first time when I was about twelve years old, a protected, homeschooled white girl. The only touches of racism I heard came from my Southern relatives over the age of 75. I didn’t see any more “Whites Only” signs on restrooms or drinking fountains.
I thought racism would die when that older generation died.
The words of Malcolm X, whose violent Islam contrasted with King’s peaceful Christianity, jolted me. “I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare….when you drop that violence on me, then you’ve made me go insane, and I’m not responsible for what I do. And that’s the way every Negro should get. Any time you know you’re within the law, within your legal rights, within your moral rights, in accord with justice, then die for what you believe in. But don’t die alone. Let your dying be reciprocal. This is what is meant by equality….In 1964, it’s the ballot or the bullet.”
I thought he would no longer have a reason to say those words if he lived in this generation. I thought Malcolm X’s violence died with him. When my kids are born, I thought, they will live in that world where no one judges another by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.
I was wrong.
This morning I cried while watching the video of Alton Sterling being wrestled to the ground by police officers and shot to death because a homeless man called 911 on him, according to CNN’s report. Sterling was no innocent civilian; he was a registered sex offender who had been found guilty of numerous crimes. But there’s no evidence that the police officers knew that information when they repeatedly shot him.
He shouldn’t have tried to struggle with them. And he shouldn’t be dead right now.
During a routine traffic stop, supposedly for a broken taillight, Philando Castile of Minneapolis, a school cafeteria worker, was also killed by police on July 7th while reaching for his wallet. The policeman who fired apparently believed that Castile was getting out his gun. Castile’s fiancé videoed the aftermath. Her 4-year-old daughter was in the back of the car.
I couldn’t finish listening to his fiancé’s grief-stricken cries for Jesus to help them. My eyes were too full of tears.
And then, Thursday this week, the violence only escalated. Five policemen were killed by an African-American sniper. Their names were Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens, and Michael Smith. Seven more were injured.
They were protecting peaceful black demonstrators. One of the murdered cops had just gotten married two weeks ago; another was a Navy veteran with two young children. He will never come home to his precious kids again.
Meanwhile, hate groups such as the African American Defense League are calling for the death of policemen and firemen. Their Facebook page on July 6th announced, “It is time to visit Louisiana and hold a barbeque. The highlight of our occasion will be to sprinkle Pigs Blood!”
More policemen have been murdered in the days following.
Oh, come, Lord Jesus!
Can we have a dream of racial peace and justice? We know now that there is no “race” other than the human race; there are just varying degrees of melanin in our skin. But there is a very real perception of different races. So can we dream?
I’m beginning to think peace will never come in my life. The only way we are going to see the kind of harmony that we dream of is if Jesus returns. But we can stand together and grieve together over the senseless violence that happens in every situation. We can pray for our police officers (the white ones, the black ones, and the brown ones), that they would have protection in the danger they face, and that they would have wisdom and a strong desire for justice. And we can keep praying that Jesus will change hearts of stone into hearts of flesh that love each other.
Dr. King continued his speech with these words: “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
That “one day” may have to be heaven. Let us follow Jesus’ example and pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. And let us join hands with our brothers and sisters, no matter what color our skin is, and “work together, pray together, [and] struggle together.”