Lawrence Provenzano, Bishop of Long Island, wrote a letter asking his clergy to avoid protests following the tragic and senseless murders of two police officers in Brooklyn.
From his letter:
I am asking that our clergy stand down from the organizing and protesting that has filled the streets with people following the failure to indict police in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases. There is always room for prophetic witness and the striving for justice and peace among all people. But now I am asking that we strive, and teach and practice peace and peacemaking. I am asking us to put the needs of our young people, their families and communities first. Violence cannot be a response to violence. Hatred must be remedied by love – love incarnate, made real by those who are called to be the Body of Christ.
Provenzano is wrong in implying that we can’t protest the injustices of the judicial system while simultaneously practicing peace and peacemaking. Justice and peace are not opposing ideals; they are complementary, and without one, we do not have the other. The enduring protest chant “No Justice, No Peace” refers to the experience of victims of injustice. It is a statement that exposes the hypocrisy of referring to the quietly oppressed as ‘peaceful’. Peace is not found in the submissive acceptance of oppression, but in the absence of oppression. It is neither a call to violence nor to disruption of the peace of others, but a call to bring justice and peace to all.
Asking clergy to avoid the protests also suggests that the protesters are the source of the tensions and racial divide. This dangerous implication ignores the racial division and strife that can be traced back to the founding of our nation, and blames oppressed people for speaking up about the discrimination and injustice they face.
The parallels drawn between the protests and the tragic murder of two police officers is reductive and overly simplistic. Viewing this recent murder as an extension of the protests not only fails to account for the reality of the peaceful protests; it also fails to account for the extensive criminal record of the alleged shooter, or the shooting of his ex-girlfriend, the day he travelled to New York. In the full context of this crime, it seems to be a violent outburst by a deeply-disturbed man, not a carefully planned act of revenge.
The protests started out of outrage that the due process of law was not applied in instances where officers killed black men. Calls for indictments and juried trials are not calls for violence, nor are they celebrating extrajudicial killings. In protesting death and injustice, it is hard to imagine that the clergy in Long Island were attending protests which would cheer for these tragic deaths.
There is no cognitive dissonance in seeking justice for black victims of state violence and feeling heartbroken over the murders of these two police officers. The protests are part of an important conversation about racial injustice that we largely seek to avoid. It is especially hard to have this conversation now, because so many in power have mistakenly seen the protests as an attack and an assault on individual men and women, and not as a valid criticism of the systems in place that perpetuate racial injustice. It is disappointing to see Bishop Provenzano share this misapprehension, and even more disappointing to see him misuse his privilege and power to ask his clergy to stop having a difficult conversation.
Bishop of New York, Andrew M.L. Dietsche, offers a statement closer to the values of the Episcopal church in a different letter. Dietsche prays for all the victims of violence, while clearly stating the values of the diocese and a commitment to continue to seek justice. Sadly, though, he also seems to misunderstand an important message, in titling his letter “To God, ALL Lives Matter”.
In a culture that rarely expresses a consensus of outrage when a black life is lost, “Black Lives Matter” is an important statement that counters the dominant cultural apathy towards black lives. It is not a statement that needs rebuttal, and the response “All Lives Matter” is frequently used to rebuke black voices protesting the disinterest of white America.
It is a subtle, but troubling, criticism of “Black Lives Matter”, and it’s inappropriate in the context of the rest of his letter, which is bold in continuing to call for justice in the case of Garner and hope and healing for the two officers. It seems likely that Dietsche is unaware of the troubling use of “All Lives Matter”, and that his intention was not the rejection of black voices, but instead to state clearly the sanctity of all life.
Bree Carlson, writing for Common Dreams, explains why the comparisons made by Provenzano and statements like “All Lives Matter” are so dangerous.
From her essay:
Comparing the killing of the two officers with those of Michael Brown and Eric Garner is dangerous and misleading. It asks all of us to pretend that power has nothing to do with the equation and to assume one man, apparently dealing with mental illness of some kind, operating alone and without the sanction or support of any organized group, be put in the same category as the combined armed, organized, force of police departments through out the United States. It is our hope that Mayor de Blasio will rescind his call to suspend protests in New York and that the NYPD will ignore reactionary calls for escalation. Irresponsible, uninformed accusations blaming protesters for the officers’ deaths serve only to ratchet up tensions and do not increase public safety. What is needed, in fact, is continued support for on-going, non-violent protests and demonstrations calling for reforms that end racially biased police practices and increase public safety.
Abandoning our calls for justice will not honor the lives of those killed, nor will it bring about peace. Rather, it is by courageously seeking justice that we can honor the lives of officers Liu and Ramos, and bring about the peace that we all so dearly need.
Posted by David Streever