Keren and I were driving through Brooklyn yesterday, on our way from Philadelphia to the friend’s house we’re staying at in New York. Or, I should say, Keren was driving and I was trying to get the maps app on my phone (we’ve nicknamed her automated personality “Coco,” as in “co-co-pilot”) to give us a straight answer about where to turn. Coco kept changing her mind. We finally got to the house of our friend, Ame, but there was no parking to be found anywhere near the place.
We circled Flatbush Avenue for almost 45 minutes. With the maze of No Left Turn signs and one-way streets, the heaviness of now-rush-hour traffic, and Coco calling out impossible instructions (“Make a u-turn at Lafayette!”), Keren kind of lost it.
I couldn’t blame her. We’ve been on the road for about 12 days now and we’re doing some tough work, talking with people about race. We’re tired and New York City traffic can break the strongest spirit. So when Keren started swearing and smacking the steering wheel, I wasn’t surprised. My job became to find out if she had a strategy, ask her what she needed and see if I could help.
We got to Bluestockings, the feminist/radical bookstore where I was to read, with a few minutes to spare, so I checked in on what was happening in Baltimore with the protests against the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police. A state of emergency had just been declared and the National Guard mobilized. Unrest in the streets was getting ugly, with some folks setting fires and smashing up police cars. While thousands of nonviolent protesters stood in witness, calling for justice for Gray, a few people turned violent — but of course that’s where all the media attention went.
But, you know what? So what.
So what if a minority of protesters damage property. So what if the media can’t bring itself to report the whole picture. So what.
Here’s the one simple thing that people of conscience should know about the protests in Baltimore: They are happening — and sometimes taking a hostile turn — for a reason.
Your job, concerned citizen of conscience, is to ask “What is the reason?” and to make a sincere effort to find out.
Some of us — maybe most of us — wish that violence weren’t part of the protest, but you got to know this: Regardless of how you wish the protesters would conduct themselves, they have a reason for what they are doing. Maybe the demonstrations don’t play out the way you would have it if you were there, but you have to acknowledge the feelings and experiences behind those demonstrations. There is a reason, whether you currently understand it or not. Go find out.
Like when your normally gentle-spirited partner suddenly loses her temper, you may be shocked. You may wish things were different in that moment. But she’s got a reason.
Thing is, if you care about her, you try to find out what’s motivating the outburst and you try to help. That is, if you care.