[The Episcopal News] Outrage: Feelings of sharp anger and profound sadness. These were the feelings of so many of us when we first watched the video of the beating of Rodney King. Rodney King did not live an exemplary life, but, whatever wrongs he had done, he was and is a fellow citizen and a human being. We know him as a child of God. As I watched the video there kept running through my head a phrase from the baptismal vows: “…and respect the dignity of every human being.”
Outrage. Feelings of sharp anger and profound sadness were ours when we heard that the police officers, who had clearly gone well beyond the guidelines of their police rules by using excessive, unreasonable and, indeed, cruel force to subdue Rodney King, were acquitted of all charges, except for one that may or may not be retried. While we must give our support to the jury system of law, the message for so many persons of color and for persons of lower economic status in our city and country seems to be that it is permissible for police to use such force if they want to.
Outrageous have also been the immediate results of this jury decision, and one can only respond with great sorrow as our city burns. However much we share in the sense of outrage and the painful frustrations and disillusionments these acquittals have caused, it is tragic to watch as people burn and pillage. Many people in these local communities have now lost their jobs. Several have lost their lives. Many others are terrified, and they weep as they see what has happened to their neighborhoods. They worry as they think of the shortage of shops and stores and facilities which they will experience for years to come.
They and we all weep for the heightened racial tensions that have particularly targeted Koran shop and store owners and workers. The poor and the poor working people again suffer the most. Martin Luther King Jr. was right to remind us again and again that violence, however, understandable the anger that drives it, will always breed more violence.
These circumstances did not come about overnight or only because of Rodney King’s beating and the acquittals. The hopelessness of many youth with poor educational and employment prospects, and the growing gap in this region between those who have and the have-nots have been developing for years. Many of us have helped to give the police the message that their primary job was and is to protect people of means, the wealthy and the propertied middle class, from those who have less or little – often identified as poorer people of color.
In a genuine democracy police would see themselves as protectors of all the people – particularly the weaker and disadvantaged. But those who are poor in Los Angeles and many people of color believe that the police view them as those who are to be “policed” and against whom excessive force can at times be used, evidently without restrictive punishment.
There are so many fine, courageous and dedicated police men and women, and one weeps also for them on these nights and days of anger, terror and criminal behavior. We all are depended on the police – especially those who are, sadly, protected least. Many of us must recognize that it is we who have helped put the police into the position of defending some in society from others.
Now, however, the problems are so overwhelming that we are clearly all in this together. All of us are frightened, all outraged and deeply saddened and concerned for ourselves, our children, the future of Los Angeles and of our society. Some of us can continue to live in enclaves, build gated communities and private schools, and hire more protection, but none of us can escape the fear and the worry for the children and the future.
Maybe there is some hope in this. Maybe there is hope in the realization that, if we condone or don’t care about what happens to one black man in a hard place in his life, sooner or later this will profoundly affect the lives of all of us. It is not always easy to discern a corporate moral order, but it does exist. In biblical terms, if the society fails to care for the poor, for the widows, the orphans and the strangers in their midst, that society will come to tragedy.
Now we are faced with the immediate task of restoring order and trying to pick up shattered and burnt-out neighborhoods. The far larger task is to learn that we must live together. In countries poorer than ours no children go without care. There is a sense that they are everyone’s responsibility. People there would be disgraced to see homeless and hungry people in their midst.
That is not just a dream for what could happen in our society – not a utopia. It is a vision of a preferable future in which we would care that all of us have a decent education and medical attention, and hope for some kind of work, and food and housing – a future in which everyone is equally protected by the police.
But now we are also afraid, and anxiety creates greed that even the very rich apparently cannot satisfy. Only a few moments of such reflection cause us to realize that our deepest problems are spiritual and that only a sense of being loved and of learning to care for others can heal us and our society.
There are things we can do now. Those of us resident in the city of Los Angeles can vote for Charter Amendment F in June and thus strengthen opportunities for change for which many of the police also hope. We can welcome our new Chief of Police and make it clear that we want protection and police support for everyone, not just some. We can ask for many more women police and more police representing our several racial and ethnic groups.
All of us in Los Angeles may participate in the Hope in Youth Campaign which can change the lives of many of our youth and their families.
We can listen to one another. This Church of ours is able to bring together many people from different ethnic groups and classes as we did on May 3. We can tell others that we care – that we understand their outrage and their hurt.
Those who have in this world can give of what they have for others. We can vote in such a way as to make it clear that we are prepared to make sacrifices for the sake of all of us together. There is no point in our just complaining about political leadership. Most people elected to public office are followers, not leaders. They follow the electorate much more than many people seem to realize. What could be more grassroots than many of our congregations telling them what they care about?
But congregations need to be much better educated about the issues that cause so much gross economic division, poverty and desperation in our society. Our Peace and Justice Commission can send educational materials to those who ask. If you do not have people in your congregation who know first-hand the reasons for anger and hopelessness in parts of our society, churches in our poorer areas can send representatives to speak with you.
Several months ago I sent materials to each of our congregations from Bread for the World. These materials described letter-writing campaigns in which we all can be involved to help support changes in our laws and national budget. These changes would make enormous strides in overcoming the cycles of poverty, hunger and joblessness in our country.
We continue to look for more congregations who will join with us in support of Nehemiah West. Nehemiah West will build housing for low-income families. This housing will be owned by the people living in it. This is probably the most important single thing we can do to help stabilize our otherwise troubled neighborhoods.
Our splendid Neighborhood Youth Association, which works with youth in difficulty and their families, needs financial support and volunteers. Hillsides Homes is looking for people who want to participate in Advocates for Children.
Some of our congregations might wish to become a companion church with one of our churches in the impacted areas. Or you may with to contact them directly about sending food or clothing to St. Martin’s or St. Timothy’s in Compton, St. John’s, Advent, Christ the Good Shepherd, Trinity, St. Mary’s, St. Philip’s, or St. Nicholas (all in Los Angeles), St. Francis of Norwalk, or Holy Faith in Inglewood.
With assistance from the Presiding Bishop’s Fund, I am using my Discretionary Fund as a channel to send money to the clergy at a number of these churches so that they can directly help those in need in their areas Those who wish to help in this way may contribute to my Bishop’s Discretionary Fund.
We are also seeing how some of our business leaders and lawyers can be of help to those who need such assistance in obtaining loans and rebuilding.
We will do other things. But these are all important things that you and we can do know. We can channel our feelings of anger or sadness or guilt in constructive ways.
In the last few days Bishop Talton and I have been present with many of our people in the areas that suffered the most. We have heard their anger, frustration, fear and pain. We have also already heard of and seen many examples of courage and generosity – of individuals and congregations reaching out in care. This brings us hope. What we must do now is to join together with others in ways which will sustain this hope for our future together. Let us pray.
God of mercy, who calls us to live lives of justice and compassion, we pray for all who suffer from the disorder and injustice of our society. We pray for those beaten and oppressed. We pray for those who have died. We pray for those who have lost their livelihoods and homes. We pray for those who are afraid. We pray for all our children. We pray for parents. We pray for the elderly. We pray for those who struggle to bring order and stability to our neighborhoods. We give thanks for people of courage and love. We pray against hopelessness. We pray that we may learn better as people caring for each other’s needs and problems. We pray for the forgiveness of our sins. We pray for a peace of righteousness and fairness for us all. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.