When my wife came to bed last night she told me that Grand Rapids (Michigan) was experiencing a riot. I live in West Michigan. We don’t do riots. Even our protests are polite. But last night police cars were burned, the art museum had its windows smashed, and businesses were looted. This is not just anger. This is grief.
The brutal death of George Floyd has opened up the grief of many who have seen the essence of their life held down by racism. I don’t use the word “grief” lightly as it is a word with power. We do not grieve inconveniences (and much of what we are experiencing with COVID-19 is an inconvenience so stopping saying you are grieving missing work or barbecues). We grieve when the ground upon which we stand falls out from beneath us. Grief creates anger, which I experienced with the loss of my youngest child. I didn’t go out and burn cars, but the anger was strong enough to want to destroy something, to give a physical expression to my emotional void.
People are grieving the denial of their freedom, the denial of being treated with the same respect as others. My African-American son was once surrounded by seven police cars when he pulled up in front of our house because he “matched” the description of someone involved in a shooting. He was coming home from the allergist. 20 years old and studying to be an elementary school teacher and surrounded by seven police cars. They don’t do that to white people. I’ve certainly never experienced it (and I’m white and a lot older than 20). He was denied the respect he deserved for who he is because of how he looks. Last week he was made to empty his pockets at a store. In it they found his keys and wallet. He was denied the respect he deserves. He was angry. He was grieving that his basic rights were being denied him.
So what do we expect when another black person is killed by the people we pay to protect them? The people on the streets didn’t know George Floyd, but they know what he experienced because they experience it. They are in grief over what they have been denied (and I don’t say “lost” because they never had it) and part of grief is anger. When millions are grieving and angry, it is not going to be pretty. I in no way condone the needless destruction of property or physical violence that has come from these protests. I won’t even say I understand it since I’ve never once been treated like my 20-year-old has been many times. But I’m not surprised.
And I’m angry. Because I’ve grieving what my son is missing and will continue to miss from his life. The chance to be judged solely on who he is instead of what he looks like. And he is being judged by people who look like me! He could have been shot that day when seven police cars surrounded him because one stupid person let his or her misperceptions find expression in a gun. Fortunately, that did not happen. That time. Maybe he was surrounded by good police officers, and there are plenty of good police officers, but what if one of the not good ones pulls the trigger or puts my son’s neck under his knee.
So, grieve. I grieve because my six-year-old died and the ground on which I stand was taken from me. And I grieve because one of his older brothers is being denied what is due to all of God’s creation. As a result, his ground and our ground is shaken. We grieve. And we are angry. And when the anger begins to subside another person will be killed because he or she is the wrong color. And we won’t get past angry. Anger in grief needs time to heal and when the injustices just keep coming there is no time for healing. So expect anger.