In a recent article for The Christian Science Monitor Daily, Peter Grier wrote, “2020 seems likely to become an inflection-point year studied by future students.” Like 1929, when the stock market crashed, or 1968, when riots convulsed the country after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., something deep is shifting. The events of the pandemic and the racial protests after George Floyd was killed by police are not just news; they are history.
Predicting how momentous events will shape the future is hard. But even amid the upheaval, currents are recognizable.
One of the indelible images from the protests has been police kneeling with protesters. One of the most important developments has been a rise in calls to “defund the police” – with Minneapolis, the city where Mr. Floyd died – considering just that.
Beneath both of these developments is a more fundamental question: Do we need to reconsider how we view power and how that influences American policing?
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that storms expose foundations – whether they are strongly built on the rock or perilously built on the sand. The year 2020 has been a storm unlike any in generations. What it may be revealing is the need for a greater understanding of – and trust in – the ways love can transform how we think about power and policing.
A video of an interview with civil rights activist Diane Nash leaves a strong impression. One moment, she is applauded by the crowd gathered to watch. The next, she fairly excoriates them: Don’t applaud me if you’re not willing to embrace nonviolence yourself.
In a recent interview on Vox, award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates takes the point further. Nonviolence is not about the protesters, really. It is the gift of the protesters to those in power, showing a higher and more humane mode of action. “The people who are called on to be nonviolent are the people with the ability to do the least amount of damage; whereas, we don’t call upon those who have the most power and actually can do the most damage.”
What would nonviolent policing look like? How would a country that truly embraced the clearly demonstrated power and principles of nonviolence act – both to its own citizens and to the world? Mr. Coates has hope. “I feel like we’re closer than we were in 1968. I feel like more people get it.”
This is not naive or idealistic. It is the opposite. The steps forward are neither obvious nor easy. But they are in front of us, and clearer now. The impetus of this moment is a primal cry for an expanded sense of love for all – a truer “us.” Within that idea is the seed of progress. But the idea must be defended and fought for.
Professor and author Ibram X. Kendi writes on Twitter: “I love. And because I love I resist. There have been many theories on what’s fueling the growing demonstrations against racism all over America, from small towns to large cities. Let me offer another one: Love. We love.”