“It is my belief that in the Presence of God there is neither male nor female, white nor black, Gentile nor Jew, Protestant nor Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, nor Moslem, but a human spirit stripped to the literal substance of itself before God.”
— Howard Thurman
Two months ago, on December 27, 2014, I went on a march in LA to protest the killing of unarmed black men and women by the police.
I felt frustrated after the Ferguson Grand Jury refused to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri, in August of 2014, and could find no words to respond to the disappointment I was hearing from black friends with whom I’d been discussing his case.
I was moved reading articles written by black parents who were forced to have painful conversations with their children about the police and racial profiling — policies that I doubted would be tolerated for five minutes by white parents.
Many people, myself included, see these killings as modern day lynchings.
When a friend told me about an upcoming Black Lives Matter march in LA (one of many taking place across the United States), I decided to go.
On a chilly morning (for LA), I took the bus to the LA Farmer’s Market, which is close to Pan Pacific Park, where thousands of protestors were gathered.
Some of the people on the bus were angry when the bus driver told them she had to go a different route because of the protestors.
“Protestors!” one man yelled, “I didn’t fight in Vietnam for this!”
“Well, I’m going,” I said, and asked the bus driver if she would let me off at the next stop, and point me in the direction of the March.
It was a pretty day, and in spite of the chill in the air, the sun shone, and the skies were blue.
I enjoyed the half mile walk to the park, and soon I was with the others — mostly black people, but there were white people there, too — marching and chanting, “No justice, no peace!” and “Hands up, don’t shoot!”
After an hour or so, we turned a corner onto Wilshire Blvd., chanting “this is what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” We were in the sun again, so I took off my sweatshirt. As I was tying it around my waist, I tripped over one of the orange cones the police had put on the street to keep the marchers on one side of the wide Boulevard.
“This is what stupidity looks like,” I said to the two young black women who were marching next to me, as I struggled to regain my balance. They laughed, and then we all burst out laughing.
Then the woman who was standing next to me said, “Thank you for coming out.”
“It’s for a purpose,” she said.
“I think it is, I told her.
I was touched by her warmth, her grace, and her fire.
“Off the sidewalk and into the street!” she yelled when she saw the hundreds of people on the sidewalk along Wilshire Blvd., some staring at us, some cheering us on.
The march was peaceful. There was no tear gas, and no arrests. The police were there, but they were using a light touch. Many of the officers were hanging out on bicycles along the route, and appeared to be enjoying themselves (quite a contrast to what was happening in other parts of the country).
Toward the end of the march, someone started playing a drum, and there was lots of singing and dancing, neighbors greeting neighbors, friendliness, and the joy that comes from being together.
After the Black Lives Matter march, as I pondered what to do next, I read an article by Parker Palmer that spoke to me:
“Imparting hope to others has nothing to do with exhorting or cheering them on. It has everything to do with relationships that honor the soul, encourage the heart, inspire the mind, quicken the step, and heal the wounds we suffer along the way.”
Compassion has less to do with charity and cheerleading, I realized, and more to do with solidarity and kinship.
The Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, wrote that compassion involves deep listening — the ability to hear the suffering of our neighbor — and it also involves deep looking.
As James Baldwin wrote, “you cannot fix, what you will not face.”