Friday, May 1, 2015

One Step Forward for Baltimore, One Brave Act of Empathy

It's been a tough week watching what happened in Baltimore. Only months after the events in Ferguson, Missouri, it seems like a replay of the same over again.

What happened to Freddie Gray--an African American man violently apprehended by police, whose injuries resulted in his death--spurs divisive reactions, with those calling for action on systemic racism, to those decrying property damage from looting.

Among all this, here is the image which struck me:

Facebook image Shameeka Dream
Credit to the source who pointed her out:

This image struck me because it's the direct opposite of the heated judgments in our media. It contrasts the widely-shown images of burning and looting. This was a spiritual response to the loss of human life and the chaos that followed.

Shameeka showed empathy and strength in the face of divisive, violent aftermath.

No matter what your thoughts on what happened in Baltimore, empathy is a powerful tool. When pursue empathy, we put ourselves in another's shoes in attempts to understand. We don't assume, we don't shame. We listen.

What if we set aside our own experiences to listen to those whose lives are so different from ours that we don't immediately understand?

What if instead of posting inciting Facebook memes, we prayed for those who are mourning? What if we prayed for those who are so angry by injustice, their reaction was to set fire to their city? Can you imagine praying for those you don't understand, and maybe don't respect? Many faiths urge us to pray for our enemies and to serve everyone. Not just our friends, but everyone.

What would that look like? What if we listened to the Whys leading to the anger, the violence? Would our world look any different?

I'm glad to see the charges Attorney General Marilyn Mosby stated today, that Gray's death is ruled a homicide, and the officers involved will be charged. It's one step forward to address this loss. My heart hurts for those who lost their chance to mourn when things turned violent. I also hurt for those in law enforcement who seek to protect without resorting to excessive force, and are unfairly lumped in with the rest. I hurt for those who lost a son, a brother, a friend. All of these things can co-exist with the loss of property and looting. Violence on one end does not negate the loss of life on another.

Martin Luther King, Jr. also said this less-often quoted lines:
“I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.” Source
It's a problem that doesn't have an answer that fits in a tweet or a passive-aggressive Facebook post. It's a problem that means more of us need to listen.

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