Welcome to the Jungle

I’m writing this on Saturday, July 9, in the aftermath of a truly horrific week.

  • In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Alton Sterling, a black man, was shot and killed by police officers. Video of the incident revealed a shocking and unwarranted use of force, and immediately generated outrage on social media.
  • A day later, in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, another black man, Philando Castile, was pulled over for a minor offense — a busted taillight — and shot four times by police as he was reaching for his wallet. His girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, captured the shocking aftermath on her cellphone.
  • The following night, protests unfolded across the country. A large and peaceful protest in Dallas, Texas, erupted into violence as former Army sniper, Micah Johnson, opened fire on Dallas police, killing five cops and injuring seven others.

Waking up on Saturday morning, and realizing that we had actually made it through a day without another awful, national incident, was a relief. But the issues are still with us, and it’s not far-fetched to suggest that things are getting worse.

Race relations are tense, sometimes lethally so. Across the country, police forces seem to be targeting African-American residents (primarily men) for dubious or non-existent crimes and employing absurd levels of violence in the process. Our veterans, like Micah Johnson, are returning from war zones with untreated trauma. Civilians (like Johnson) are allowed to be armed to the teeth in gun-happy America, thus placing more police at risk, which thus causes them to be more likely to preemptively lash out.

It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of violence and death, played out in our cities and suburbs.

I don’t presume to offer any insight, any depth of understanding, on such tragedies. Far smarter people than I — the president, members of Congress, criminologists, pastors, big city police chiefs, mayors and governors — are as baffled as anyone else in developing solutions that are politically and culturally feasible in 21st century America.

I’m also not interested in adding to our nation’s trite dialogue after such tragedies, although the fact that I’m composing such a piece as this probably makes me guilty of that. Blogs and articles are rife with injunctions to think about what just happened, pray and hope it doesn’t happen again, and go about your business.

I’m not going to knock prayer. Prayer accomplishes much, I believe. But prayer in a nation awash in guns, and prayer in a nation infected with racism, will be little more than spiritual comfort food that we eat after another heartbreaking tragedy. And really, does God even listen to the prayers of a nation that hugs its guns and spits on its marginalized minorities, and pledges its intent to maintain a bloody and hateful status quo?

I do indeed want change. As my more conservative brethren say, I do want national revival. But I think we’re talking about very different things.