My heart weeps looking at the fires over many American cities today. Much like every anti-racist in the country, I was horrified by the death of George Floyd while in police custody. This incident, coming at a time when the world used collective actions to fight the invisible enemy called COVID-19, is sadly the latest in a string of violent interactions between police and people of color.
In the world of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., “Violence never really deals with the basic evil of a situation… it is always a descending spiral leading nowhere. This is the ultimate weakness of violence: it multiplies evil and violence in the universe. It doesn’t solve any problem.”
Some would say that it is judgmental of me, as a white man, to use MLK’s word on the principle of non-violence at this time, as many of the angriest looters are using the grief of a country to destroy communities. But to me, it is the violence inherent in our system that fuels much of the problem.
Whenever a person of color is abused by someone in a position of authority, whether it is a policeman, a politician, or a business leader, we all lose as a society. And while those aggressions happen on a daily basis, it is often the documentation of said aggression that drives to protest.
And yet, little progress is made. Little progress is made because business leaders like myself fail in demanding that the situation change. Almost a quarter of a millennia after the great American experience was started on the basis of forming “a more perfect union,” the dream of a working melting pot is still too far from reality for too many.
When combined with the economic grief that has led tens of millions to the unemployment lines, the United States is on the brink of disaster. And when the voices of too many are unheard, it leads to violent actions of the kind we have witnessed over the last few days.
It does not have to be that way. Reverend King has taught us that “”Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.”
At a time when people of color die in police custody with too great a frequency, we can no longer just stand silent, because such silence equals tacit support for a spiral of violence that is counter to the American ethos.
So I side with the peaceful demonstrators asking for justice not only for George Floyd but for all the cases where power is being abused to put down people of color; I side with anyone willing to advance meaningful reform to tear down the persistent evils of institutional systemic racism; I side with anyone for whom George Floyd is just one name too many, another life crushed when it didn’t have to be.
We have learned at Selma that standing peacefully in the face of hatred is not easy. As John Lewis recently said, reminding us of his long history of non-violent resistance:
Justice has, indeed, been denied for far too long. Rioting, looting, and burning is not the way. Organize. Demonstrate. Sit-in. Stand-up. Vote. Be constructive, not destructive. History has proven time and again that non-violent, peaceful protest is the way to achieve the justice and equality that we all deserve.
Our work won’t be easy — nothing worth having ever is — but I strongly believe, as Dr. King once said, that while the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice.”
I, as a white male, have a responsibility to stand not only as an ally but as a leader in helping that arc bend toward justice. And because I’ve seen this country, and the rest of the world, work collectively in its fight against COVID-19, I have hope that we, as human beings, can work together and build a better world.
And I intend to continue to do it peacefully because non-violence may not always work but violence never does.