Much like my post two months ago, at the onset of the coronavirus and all of its ensuing chaos, as I sit down to write tonight, all I have are questions. I don’t have a structure; I don’t have an angle, religious or otherwise.
All I have are questions.
Because I am conflicted. I am confused.
I am listening.
I am trying.
Like most of the modern world, my newsfeed, inbox, and screens have been flooded with images of violence this week. I continue to hear helicopters flying overhead; sirens intermittently pierce the air. I just walked away from my office building, not two doors down from the Multnomah County Justice Center.
I wanted to see. I wanted to observe.
Downtown Portland continues to closely resemble a war zone (downtown Beirut?). The buildings, the windows are boarded up; spray paint is everywhere. “ACAB, 1312” (All Cops Are Bastards). “Killing cops is fun.” “FTP.”
The hate bleeding from the walls bristles, menacing the onlooker, providing ample reason to just stop, turn around, and go home. If one braves the threat, however, a different sight awaits: notably, the smashed-in, looted Apple Store. There, the hastily-installed walls have become the home of beautiful murals and memorials; unknown cadres of artists have depicted the faces of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmad Arbery in kaleidoscope rainbows of chalk. Posters of each victim, along with many others, keep pace with your steps, along with the ever-present exhortation, “Say Their Names.” If you look closely, you’ll notice more quotes in the bricks at your feet: “beauty is ephemeral.”
In Chapman Square itself, facing the Justice Center, protesters pass out free sandwiches; protesters pass out water; protesters pass out goggles (for tear gas). Conscientious citizens, of all races and creeds, have added “BLM” onto backpacks, clothing, and face masks. “Defund the police” reverbs and echoes, along with a few, scattered “Disband the Military.” Individuals armed with homemade cardboard signs press close to the chain link, concrete-reinforced fence, spilling over onto a pioneer family’s statue, “The Promised Land.”
Standing a few feet away, I notice the Thomas Jefferson quote inscribed into the base:
“We are all now of one family, born in the same land, and bound to live as brothers… the Great Spirit has given you strength and has given us strength, not that we should hurt one another, but to do each other all the good in our power.”
Given our country’s dodgy history of “doing good” to non-male Anglo-Protestant-Europeans, the irony sets the tone, as chants of “No Justice No Peace” fill the air. The police, busy watching for the tells of a crowd’s flashpoint into violence, make no response.
I ask one protester in hijab next to me: “What’s the end goal? Why are they here?” Taken aback, she solicits the aid of her friend to respond: “The people are angry. They’re protesting. They want change.”
Barely specific enough to qualify as a reply, I sense there are no more answers to be had here, as the chanting grows louder, the number of protesters grows greater. I gather my fluffball and leave. Several streets away, a squad of SWAT moves in to take position, full armor coating their forms as they clutch to the rooftop of their van. I nod at them as I walk by, but I doubt they notice. A volatile crowd demands their entire focus.
And so I resume my walk home, filled with a heavy, churning heart.
First: is there room for “and”?
To feel deep empathy for those in uniform- AND not condone police violence?
To be a part of change, to want reform- AND need time to breathe? To feel uncomfortable at protests?
Can we see the ugliness of the violence and systemic injustice- AND still witness “ephemeral beauty”?
Can we note the achievements of our heroes (Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr)- AND be conflicted by their moral legacy?
Is there space for love AND fear?
And then: where is the line? What is “enough”?
Is there a certain number of books I need to read, a numerical amount of donations, a certain number of movies to watch or civic dialogues to attend; how do we know when we’ve done enough to counteract our white privilege? Is that even a thing? Atone for it, or rather the ignorance of its existence? What is a summary of “good ally-ship”?
Not that the Bible is infallible, but my basic knowledge fails me: what does Jesus say to the confused but willing? “Pick up your cross and follow”? What does that even mean in this situation?
Ten days later, the shock is slowly slipping away; apparently, not all lives DO matter in this country, despite our constant jumps to the moral high ground (which, to be fair, has appeared decidedly already quite low through much of history).
All I have are questions.
My final overarching question is this:
What does the long term look like?
Will ACAB, the hatred, be the final answer?
Or will love find its own, sneaky, oft-painful way to slip through the cracks: to force us to grow through the fear, and to reach out to one another?
Will we ever live up to our own legacy?
After five years working in Bahrain and Japan, Brett hides out in the clouds of Portland, Oregon. She can be found teleworking or brewing coffee when not pondering esoteric questions, swimming, hiking, or calculating cookie-to-workout ratios.