by Erin Hawkins*
On Monday, April 27, another young black man was laid to rest in Baltimore, Md., amidst unanswered questions surrounding his death while in police custody. Peaceful protests were overshadowed that same night when riots erupted on the streets of the city, leading to acts of violence and destruction of personal property. Suddenly the unlawful acts of a few overshadowed the positive, peaceful work of many seeking justice and answers to longstanding problems of racial inequity in our society and in our criminal justice system.
Violence is never the answer, but what happened in Baltimore this week reminded me of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which he shared nearly 50 years ago.
- "It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard."
When the streets of Baltimore are cleared of their destruction, when the National Guard ends its patrols of neighborhood streets, when the news cameras pull away, what then? Will we all go back to life as usual, or do we say that the time has more than passed for Church leaders, community organizers, policymakers, parents, neighbors, everyone to link arms nationwide and agree to fix unjust systems present in every aspect of our society? We must agree that black lives matter. That people living in poverty matter. That equal justice and opportunity for all matters. And then we must commit to creating policies and systems that produce solutions. Alone we are uncertain, frustrated, overwhelmed. Together we are positive change makers.
Baltimore-Washington Conference Bishop Marcus Matthews said
, "This is an historic moment of recovery and of the creation of justice. Today, we are called to be the Church, for one another and the community. May it be so."
I am grateful for the wise words of Bishop Matthews as we seek to heal and continue to work for justice through peace and love. I am also grateful for the faith leaders who are working on the front lines to bring God's message of hope, healing, and justice to those affected in neighborhoods in Baltimore.
What does the Church and your community call you to be today? May it be so.
The full statement can be viewed online at gcorr.org
*Erin is the general secretary for the UMC General Commission on Religion and Race, and will serve as a conference teacher at AC15.