Anger, Protests, and Riots

It is November 25, 2014

(I updated this November 26, 2014. Updates in parentheses)

In the middle of a three part series on anger, it seems appropriate to take a moment to discuss the recent demonstrations and riots in Ferguson, MI.

Yesterday, November 24, 2014, a grand jury made a decision not to indict a white police officer on his shooting and killing of Michael Brown, a black youth.

There is much detail in the news agencies, in the political blogs and opinion pieces abound. I encourage each to gather the information and draw their own conclusions.

My interest is more in the palpable anger on both sides. The anger of black and white demonstrators to the jury’s decision and the anger of black and white police and judicial authorities and citizens to those who are demonstrating and rioting.

This incident reminded me of two other events I remember in my past.

The first one occurred when I lived in Southern California in 1992. It was the demonstrations and rioting that occurred related to the acquittal of the police who beat Rodney King. Many of us watched his video-beating and then saw first hand the beating of Reginald Denny. I reread my journal reflection from 1992 and see the same basic issue is how do we manage our anger into long-term solutions.

I moved later to Ohio and was in the Cincinnati area when police where acquitted related to accusations of brutality, profiling and even killing of black youth. I was attending a downtown black SDA church at the time and was treated with great hospitality, even invited home by one of the parishioners.

My focus here is how to process this issue within the Adventist community.

(Added On Nov 26. Last evening the Campus Ministry group at Andrews University  had a open forum for  individuals to voice their responses and concerns about Mike Brown and what was happening in Ferguson. I learned about it late and got there late. I am now glad I went. At the time I felt deeply uncomfortable as I felt only one side of the issue was being focused on. While most students had already headed home for the holidays, there was a good attendance and it was a healing session. It was a debreeding of the wound and there was a lot of hurt. I felt a lot of anger. It was still the most promising picture of Adventists processing this issue I have seen to date.

There was a lot of anger shared. Yes. Black people anger!! As I pointed out in previous blogs, anger is an indication that someone has stepped on or violated an important value. Its the starting point>  anger is not bad. It is the sin that so easily follows anger that needs to be dealt with. So, I heard and felt the anger my black brothers and sisters feel toward the US system, at the systematic abuse of blacks, at the plight of especially black males.  As a white man I heard about my priveldge (and agree). But I also had my own anger as I heard invidual assumed that Wilson the police officer was guilty or that maybe he should pay for something that he may not have been wrong in doing just because he was white and a police officer. I also felt my own anger as some of the interpretations. It wasn’t a time for my white anger and I am glad I didn’t speak at the mic. I agree that the forum was to express frustration with what happened to Mike, that another black teen young man was dead.

It was truth fest last night. Truth is tough stuff. Following Ephesians 4:25: “Laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” I needed to hear what parts of my body are feeling. I have to change to meet that feeling or I will not be part of the body.  As one who is priveldged as a white man, I heard God’s call: “to much is given, much is required.”

José Bourget concluded the event with a huge take away for me:  “Understanding is not a prerequisite for compassion, acceptance is. It is better to understand but compassion is needed even when, or especially when, we don’t understand. These are are good brothers and sisters and we need to accept their experience.”
These were good people with deep anger at a US system that needed to keep be reformed.
He called us all to strategically figure out how we can get involved.

I went home and listened differently to the news and could understand better the message of one news commentator that especially helped me: “Granderson: America, we have a problem” was saying.

The call is not to only talk about racial differences, but how to address them.)

Back to my previous blog: My focus is not directly on police racial profiling and brutality, nor specifically about increased statistical data that indicates high levels of disenfranchisement and violent and criminal behavior among black youth. My focus is on the anger related to both of these issues and how to process anger into solutions.

Anger is not a bad place to start when you feel something is going wrong, but it is a horrible place to stay. Anger is like an engine that is revving. If all you have an an engine and don’t have the rest of the vehicle, the engine does little good. There needs to be a transmission to translates the power into results.

Last night (Nov 24, 2014) in Ferguson many cars—police and others–and several businesses were burned. I don’t see that helping anything except to create fear among some that want to bring more police power to bear on individuals.

The crowds were angry about the violence against Michael Brown but the police were also angry about the disobedience against the call for peace.

The ease at which protesting leads to riots and further innocent life being threatened or taken and business being destroyed, raises the concern we raised in the last blog in heeding Ephesians 4: 25-32

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

As noted in the last blog, there is a call and need to be truthful and that will often require being angry. God inspired values for justice and peace and safety and when those are violated our value sensitivity ignites in us a desire to right the wrong.

But often our initial reaction may be misinformed or under-informed.

We could be wrong, real wrong, deadly wrong.

Hence the need to be careful in assuming everything we think is actually true about the case or the feelings we have.

Speaking the truth to a neighbor is not easy, especially if one is a black neighbor speaking truth to a white police man they think walks around with deep prejudices or uses power inappropriately. It is equally hard if you are a white man speaking truth to a young black man and you feel he also walks around with his own prejudices and biases. It is especially hard, as the passage goes on to say, when you have to point out when a law is broken, a city’s law or a nations law or God’s law.

“Don’t steal. Work instead.” is exactly some of the truth being referred to in this passage.

It could also be  “don’t shoot” or “your police department and judicial system is corrupt.”  Be angry and speak the truth is crucial but one has to ask for God’s purging power not to let the anger become sin.

So, when we believe a crucial value is being violated, the emotions linked with our value frames need to be expressed. We should feel a call for battle…two types.

The battle inside is to know how to help change along.

All this requires work, work that has to be done before we talk to others and before we act. A deep journey to humility and listening takes work as does a systematic work to make sure your voice is heard, especially if you are in a marginalized group.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath has a section on the civil rights movement, on stories of police intervention in New York to curb youth crime and police relations in Ireland during the “troubles.” He talked about the strategy needed to create better situations when the odds are against a group. They need to keep a clear pictures of what is right and wrong,  an anger can keep that clear, but one must quickly move to strategy, like David did, that works for the marginalized, the undersized, and the underdogs and upholds the values they believe in.

In a passage about school discipline, he noted something that applies broadly:

“When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters–first and foremost–how they behave.”

“This is called the ‘principle of legitimacy,’ and legitimacy is based on three things. First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice–that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today. And third, the authority has to be fair. It can’t treat one group differently from another.” (Kindle loc 2337 of 3541)

As the leaders in the U.S. South in the 1960s realized, they had to use the values they believe in, and the non-violent protest had very effective results.

They acted strategically and that channeling anger into solutions is what Ephesians outlines.

We must first interrogate the many witnesses in our own minds as well as in our communities. As we communicate with others our feelings and then hear their own, we grow more mature in our thinking.

This is a two way street in our own thinking: were humility and patience have to flow as well as confidence, activism and righteousness indignation.

How do we know if our perceptions are correct? How do we know if we have heard correctly? How best should we strategically map out a road to change? Are we willing to let anger be geared down into effective practice.

Figuring out how to channel anger into leadership is what is needed.

We hope to take up Angry Leaders in the next blog.


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