“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” Martin Luther King, Jr.
I am watching from the safety of my home as fires and violence rage through the cities of my country. So much anger, so much hostility. I watch human beings strike out to hurt other human beings and hope drains from my soul. I feel that my country is exploding into ragged shards. And Trump talks about thugs, and shootings. He keeps pouring accelerant on the flames of dissent, as he has always done in public, even long before he took over the White House, even as he does now.
I spoke last night via Facetime, as I do every week, to my friends in New Zealand. They love the United States and Americans and I look at their furrowed brows and their anxious voices as they ask “What is happening to Americans? What happened to the United States? Why, why, why?”
I don’t know. I can’t answer their questions. But I do know this type of hatred, this type of anger? It is a vicious cycle. It is a self-feeding, continually accelerating cycle, pitting human beings against each other. It speaks to our culture that human beings are willing and able to brutalize each other. It speaks to our culture that individuals in uniforms stood by and silently witnessed one of their own stifle the breath of another human being until he was dead. What was in their minds, as they watched? Did they not speak up because they didn’t want to speak against one of their own? Did they not speak up because of fear of reprisal, a ‘blue wall of silence,’ or because of feelings of helplessness? Did they not speak because they were complicit? How can one know what was in their hearts and minds? But without a doubt, the failure to speak served as a complicit act. It speaks to our culture that these brutal events have been repeated, over and over, and then tamped down—by silence, by feelings of helplessness, by witnesses who choose to not speak up. It speaks to our culture that Trump advocated for law enforcement to ‘not be so nice’ to individuals arrested, that it would be okay to slam their heads on the roof of the police vehicle, and the silent majority remained silent while Trump’s audience laughed uproariously at these statements. It doesn’t help even now that Trump is tweeting out comments about vicious dogs, and ominous weapons, repeating comments that harken to our country’s history of racism, and threatening harsh retribution with military escalation.
I am left wondering what to do. I swing between outrage and numbness. That is also a cycle, a pendulum, that Trump has manipulated to his advantage. Every week brings some fresh assault on humanity by Trump and his administration. Children separated from parents, endorsement of a foreign leader murdering and dismembering a dissident, the constant rebuttal of the rule of law, the dismantling of government institutions, the assaults on science, truth, honesty, integrity. And I have no faith in the credibility of the leaders of my country. Trump and Barr have lied to me so many times that I do not believe anything they tell me. Most of the news services spin the facts in order to support their own political leanings or use provocative rhetoric to increase viewership—“if it bleeds, it leads.” If I’m constantly being lied to or manipulated, how can I know the truth? If I don’t know the truth, how can I take any effective action? What do I do?
I have always benefited from my position of white privilege, from growing up in a sphere of safety, protection, respect, financial security. What must it be like for a human being that has not had my privilege, my sense of safety, my sense of protection and justice? What must it be like to always feel threatened and afraid? What must it be like to know that you might never receive equity from your government, your health care system, the social culture of your country?
But I do know this—words matter. The words emanating from the White House matter. The words I speak and the words that my friends speak matter. And the absence of words, the silence that cloaks brutality, also matters. The absence of words allowed individuals, armed with the uniforms of authority and law enforcement, to silently witness the life breath being choked out of another human being.
Martin Luther King, Jr said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” It is the silence of my friends that cause me the most anguish because silence is complicit. Just like the silence of the police officers that witnessed this man’s brutal death was complicit, regardless of what was in their hearts and minds.