The Presence of Justice

blm boise
Photo credit: KIVI Staff – Black Lives Matter protest in front of the Idaho State Capitol

There’s quite a push in social media and in the news regarding phrases like “silence is concent” and “silence is violence.” In other words, if you are white and you don’t say something about “systemic racism,” and a very specific something, then you are accused of giving tacit approval to racism in general and violence against people of color in particular.

I don’t know about that. The Bible has a lot to say about times when it is better to be silent rather than speaking out of emotion or impulse. Make no mistake, there’s a lot of emotion and impulse in both social media and the real world.

Having Jewish family members, my traditional focus relative to justice is the battle against antisemitism, and, after all, bigotry is bigotry, right? Would not the words I’ve written on this blog for so many years apply to the current situation?

Apparently not.

It seems that the same people who are demanding justice over the death of George Floyd are also attacking Jewish synagogues and businesses. Apparently, Jews in America are being equated with Jews in Israel, which the protesters consider oppressors to the “Palestinians.”

I won’t go into how erroneous that notion is because it’s a very long article all by itself. It does, however, speak to part of the reason why I don’t have a “default setting” of siding unquestionably with the protesters and against police officers.

Am I a racist? No, not as I evaluate myself, but given terms like “systemic racism” and “silence is violence,” I can imagine some folks out there would assume I am. Reading this, they will assume I am because, as I said, I don’t give at least some expressions of protest (the violent expressions that destroy property and hurt and kill people) my undying, absolute support.

Also, some celebrities, such as Rosanna Arquette (although she said this nearly a year ago) suggest that in order to support these protests, support justice, and shun racism, I must not only be ashamed of myself as a white person, but I must hate my “whiteness.”

Okay, so maybe she’s an edge case and most white Americans who are protesting don’t despise themselves (though watching a lot of these people kneel at the feet of people of color seems less like justice and more like subjugation). Some white Americans are pretty upfront with saying they suffer from white guilt, but the response seems to indicate that’s just another kind of privilege.

There are all kinds of opinions about the role of white people in these protests, and some people of color view white protesters as following a trend, albeit a much needed one.

We are encouraged to read books on systemic racism, promote black causes, support black businesses, and otherwise showcase the works of people of color.

As an aside, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America recently issued a statement of support for Black Lives Matter, with some highly specific suggestions about what its membership (and any science fiction and fantasy reader actually) can do to support artists/writers of color. That’s not a bad thing, and SFWA has been pretty supportive of artists of color anyway, but at the end of the day, these are still all suggestions and its up to the conscience of every individual in how we respond.

And then there are the police.

Tons and tons of people are calling to defund the police in their communities, and the city of Minneapolis has voted to get rid of their police force altogether, eventually replacing it with…well, I don’t know with what because they don’t seem to have a plan yet.

As a white person, for the most part, I’ve had reasonably good experiences with police officers. In the 1990s, I was an investigator for Child Protective Services in Southern California and I worked with multiple law enforcement agencies. Some were really very community friendly, and a few were a pain in the neck.

But if I were a black person, my experience might be a very different one. I mean, black parents have to teach their children at a very tender age what it is to be black in America, which includes how to behave around police.

But it’s become much worse than that. Right here in my own little corner of Idaho, a little white girl learned to be afraid of the police. Fortunately, members of the Kuna Police Department helped her get past her anxiety.

I did see on twitter that when a young black girl was approached by an officer, she immediately raised her hands. As it turns out, the officer just wanted to say “hi”. A lot of people think the child’s fear was caused by police brutality in the first place, or maybe it’s become a learned behavior in the black community. Maybe too, the recent emphasis of depicting all police officers as racist and violent has something to do with it.

And some of it is just plain silly, such as the call to remove Chase the Police Dog from the Paw Patrol cartoons and books (my granddaughter loves them).

So, as you can see, there’s a lot to digest let alone respond to.

After posting a few of my past blog articles to social media and getting no response (I don’t know why I expected any), I figured that was that. What was I supposed to say that hasn’t already been said? We’ve had Black Lives Matter protests in downtown Boise. I didn’t feel compelled to attend. Oh, they were really peaceful, except that one dumb 18-year-old guy accidentally discharged his handgun into the ground. Yes, he was white, and yes, he was arrested.

Credit: KTVB News

Interestingly enough, Boise City Councilwoman Lisa Sanchez wrote a letter to the kid’s parents saying his privilege protected him, and if he were a person of color, things would have turned out differently. Maybe they would have.

She signed her letter:

Lisa Sánchez, Brown woman who chose not to have children for fear of their abuse and murder by white people.

While I don’t doubt her experiences and feelings are real, as a politician and Boise city leader, she might have tried to say something that would de-escalate anxiety and tension rather than the opposite.

Having said all this, I still wasn’t going to craft a response to the “silence is violence” supporters, that is, until I read an op-ed piece written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (yes, the former basketball player and actor). He did a very good job at getting me to be able to listen to his anger and described very well (to the best of my ability to understand, with me not having a lived black experience), how black people and white people are going to respond differently to the death of George Floyd.

Addendum: I suppose I should comment about this because, yes, when black people are angry, and they say white people are bad, I do have a problem not taking it as a personal insult. That’s my problem, I suppose, but after all, I do have trouble making it through everyday halfway sane without having these pundits adding to it. I know there is heinous injustice in the world, but I’m trying very hard not to hate myself on command.

He ended his missive with:

What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.

Now I would guess, given the article’s larger context, that he meant justice for people of color and not judging them for angry and even violent responses.

But what does that look like?

On one level, it probably means something like reforming the nature of police work across the board, although, as I suggested above, not all police departments are the same, so their responses in violent and crisis situations probably won’t be the same.

Police officers who commit crimes do need to be brought to justice, and perhaps a more stern justice since they broke the community trust and violated their oath as peace officers.

Sooner or later, the protests will die down, and the caldron of America will cool off again, going from a boil to a simmer…that is until next time.

In the 1997 film Air Force One, Harrison Ford playing (fictional) American President James Marshall delivers the line “Peace isn’t merely the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.”

In Bruce Springsteen’s music video for Born to Run he says “Remember, in the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins.”

In the 1999 film The Matrix, Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, says:

I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.

Maybe that’s all there is to it. We just begin without necessarily knowing where the road will lead or what the journey will be like.

Perhaps we should always have these protests before us, just to make sure we’re still paying attention. When they go away, and they probably will, in our rush to return to our “old normal,” sweeping George Floyd and COVID-19 aside, we’ll go back to sleep and pretend nothing’s wrong.

I chose to write this on my “religious blog” rather than my writer’s blog because you have no love, or truth, or justice without God.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? –Micah 6:8 (NASB)

I’ve seen so many opinions, but even those activists who are believers seem to have sidestepped what we really need, not just as white people or black people, or even as Americans. Is God not the God of all people everywhere? Didn’t the Apostle Paul say that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?” (Romans 3:23).

I’m not going to tell you how this will end, but I will tell you how we can begin, all of us. By making teshuvah, repent of our sins, which should also be a continual process, for our sins are always before us.

I kneel in the Presence of the Almighty during prayer, but don’t necessarily feel compelled to do so in the presence of people. However, if someone else feels that their path of repentance requires kneeling before people who they feel they’ve somehow hurt, who am I to say they shouldn’t. The important thing is to do so not out of a misplaced sense of guilt or shame, but because we truly do seek to do justice, love kindness, and have a humble walk before our God.

In the end, everybody wins because the Presence of God is the presence of justice.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Romans 8:31-39

Addendum: I just read a Fox News article (yes, I know what some of you are going to say) referencing a New York Times Op-Ed piece written by Mariame Kaba who really means she wants to abolish (mostly) the police. Her perspective is that, given more resources, particularly good jobs, housing, and so forth, the root cause of crime will be greatly reduced and people will just naturally learn to cooperate and become more community minded.

Apparently, she doesn’t believe what I quoted above from the Apostle Paul. Also, this comes to mind:

Rebbe Chanina, the assistant High Priest, says: Pray for the welfare of the government. For without fear of it, people would swallow each other alive. –Chapter 3, Mishna 2

13 thoughts on “The Presence of Justice”

  1. Reblogged this on Powered by Robots and commented:

    I posted this on my other blog “Morning Meditations,” but it really needs the widest possible audience, so I’m reblogging it here, to. “The Presence of Justice”. It wasn’t easy to write. For a lot of you, it won’t be easy to read.

  2. If government that is dedicated to the pursuit of justice should nonetheless fail to achieve it, anarchy will certainly do no better, because it lacks even the pretense of guiding principles. It becomes the tyranny of the loudest voice, the opinionated, the prejudiced, the judgmental, the bigoted — following whatever zeitgeist may prevail among the disaffected in a society.

    I’m sure this has been said before by somebody quotable, but its validity does not depend on whether someone respectable said it. Its truth stands on its own merit.

    1. I do agree that the city governments that shout the loudest for defunding/abolishing police will also suffer the worse. The CHAZ “autonomous” area in Seattle is proof of that in the few days since since it’s been established. Every attempt to establish a human community without authority and law has met with failure. We both remember the “hippie communes” from the 1960s. They didn’t last very long.

  3. From your linked THE TIMES OF ISRAEL article:

    “We support free speech and anything that’s peaceful,” [deli owner Marc] Canter said. “There are people coming out of the woodwork that are trying to blend in with the real protesters that are just troublemakers looking to take advantage of the situation and not very interested in what is being protested.”

    Still, Canter said he understood why the protests took a violent turn.

    “Tensions have been very high since COVID-19 and a lot of people are out of work, so it’s hard to do peaceful demonstrations with so much going on at the same time,” he said.

    The indication, here, is that it’s NOT “the same people” (as you put it), or, in other words, those people are not all the same.

    And, as for government, wasn’t it you two talking about overthrowing it (government) with guns in response to COVID-19 safety precautions [not that you had a plan]? [Better to throw Trump out for his mixed messaging and erratic behavior, which is wildly irresponsible.] Blind partisanship is just so weird.

    1. Actually, I thought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s op-ed piece explained the violent response very well, but you have added two important points. I too have heard that outside agitators have been infiltrating these protests to inspire violence. Of course, that’s been said of a lot of riots going back to the 1960s and probably earlier. More left oriented people say that white supremacists are working from within these groups of protestors to turn them violent, while more right leaning people say it’s “anti-fascist” people aligned with Antifa.

      I don’t recall saying that I was planning armed insurrection.

      1. I did say you didn’t have a plan.

        As for bringing up “antifa” as Trump did, if they’re like the old man who got knocked over on his head, sheesh. Trump is such a… 🤐

    1. I am so tired of this categorizing social justice or “the left” as religion. The newer facet (by the right although it was already going on* with them) is to blame the “other side” for party preference or partisanship (and “claim” higher ground for themselves, self-righteously, blindly). While there is a lot worthwhile in the article by the man’s brother, the totality is right wing, which has served Republicans for decades.

      * I was indoctrinated into the right. I know the talking habits and discern the heart/spirit.

      I could choose other excerpts, but this one will do; quote: The moral confusion of our nation and the church has reached a precipice where, as Yeshua predicted, “even the elect are deceived.” Even so, it is shocking to witness biblically observant people, grounded in the Word, defending wickedness in the name of social justice. From the secular world I expect this – but not from believers.

      [Continuing the quoting.] Satan has come to divide through the guise of racial division, a scheme running counter to God’s sure plan.

      [Return to me speaking.] As if it is something new, that we have “reached a precipice” now? While it matters what “Yeshua predicted,” concerning the elect potentially being deceived, THIS HAS ALREADY BEEN the case! Satan came long ago, EVEN HERE. The fact this isn’t seen is bizarre.

      I will say, in addition, I commented in one of your blogs not very long ago, James, about Mormons and a couple topics. Your response was that things change, whether in Mormonism or Catholicism or the implication of any organization. This is so and… therefore, appealing to the unchanging nature of God for a godly nation is rather pointless (if not deceptive, even if not intended to deceive).

  4. I mentioned in my article that acting in kindness and doing justice does not flow from a sense of guilt or shame. I’ve been assured by more than a few white people who advocate for social justice (see my link to Judah’s blog in the comment above), that self hate is not a prerequisite for whites doing social justice. Then I read this article, written by a light-skinned black man who says he also has white privilege because of the color of his skin:

    He said “I am ashamed of the white privilege I carry around because I know it comes at the expense of others who have every right to the same opportunities, advantages and freedoms.”

    Even God does not call the sinner to self hate in the name of repentance. To do justice is to be just to all, not just some, and above all, the Almighty is the final judge of what is just.

    1. I thought I’d say something about shame. Then I happened to be glancing around a site you linked to earlier. I found this:

      “He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you wherever you may go.”

      The ridiculous snake-handling preachers say, “just have faith”. After all, the Bible says, “You will tread upon the lion and the cobra, and trample the serpent’s head.”

      These kind of ultra-literalist interpretations of the Bible are terribly misinformed and bring shame to God’s reputation. These cherry-picking fools conveniently omit stories like Miryam, who was isolated from the people (and the Tabernacle!) when she had an infectious disease…at God’s behest, no less!

      Meeting in churches during the outbreak brings shame on God’s name. Consider the recent reports that France’s outbreak is traced to a church meeting in which one person infected the 2500 congregants. When the secular world reads that, do you think they are grateful to God that we had “had faith and not fear”? Of course not! They’re going to read that and be angry that foolish religious people kickstarted France’s 60,000 infections and 5,000 deaths. That brings shame on God’s reputation.

      1. Thanks for the link, Marleen. It clarified for me that your post was entirely an excerpt from Judah’s essay there, except for your first short paragraph about wanting to say something about shame. Was there something you wanted to add? This essay is a couple of months old, and a bit less applicable to the current situation after it has been possible to regain some control over the pandemic threat. One might even fault it for its own interpretive shortcomings vis-a-vis Miryam’s leprosy that is attributed to her own action of “motzi shem r’a”, a wordplay on the phrase “motzi r’a” and the term “metzora” or leper. Judah rather misrepresented Hashem and His justice to describe this penalty as instituted “at God’s behest”. I suppose it does illustrate the shame that Miryam brought upon herself by an action that precipitated the penalty of such a disease which then required isolation. However, it was not because of a self-centered sense of shame that she suffered this penalty, but because of her disdainful words.

        Moreover, privilege is not something of which to be ashamed. One noble, honorable response to the recognition that one is privileged is that of “noblesse oblige”, a motivation to use one’s status to benefit those less fortunate. It may be adopted as a moral obligation, but not because it is at all shameful in itself. Many people are privileged: some with intellectual capabilities, some with artistic ones, others with financial shrewdness, and yet others with insight into the emotional and psychological needs of others. It is only in how people use their gifts or privileges that shame or honor may apply. Those who are privileged should rejoice about whatever their supposed privilege enables them to do, especially on behalf of others, but also for themselves. And they may seek to ensure that others receive the honor that is justly due to them, whether by privileged favor or by right. They may seek to ensure that no one is denied their rights, even if they do not benefit from “privilege”. The goal should always be to build up and not to tear down, to strengthen the weak but not to weaken the stronger.

        If someone feels they have been treated as privileged for wrong reasons, such as because of their skin shade, they are not guilty of any fault of which to be ashamed. The shame is not theirs, but rather belongs to those who are motivated by racial favor or disfavor. Further, it is not for the one who may unintentionally benefit from that error to judge anyone else. If they become aware that someone is afflicted by wrong perceptions due to an erroneous worldview, they may attempt to offer correction and recommend a better one. But they are not at fault if they fail to achieve that correction, or if they perceive correctly that their audience is not amenable to receive an improved outlook. Sometimes all that can be done is to sow a seed, and even that may fall on unyielding ground where it cannot grow.

      2. People use the word shame or ashamed in a variety of ways. It does not equal hatred or self hatred (more a disdain, maybe a hate, for the wrongdoing or sin). I am sure, aside from any shortcomings of Judah Gabriel’s writing, the intent is not that anyone should hate God or that he himself hates God when he sees what churches or preachers or fools do. It is a put-down or critique or lament, in American culture, to be said to have “no sense of shame.” (Perhaps in many other cultures as well.)

  5. Fanning the flames of intolerance from any racial mix against any other racial profile is wrong. Claiming some have privilege, and others none is a fact of life that has never changed since Adam, and will not change until Yeshua returns.

    I happen to be very mixed in background…moreso than I ever knew until recently. My parents ran from their Judaic identity lest they be persecuted (having grown up before the Shoah), and I, in the winter in CA. got pulled over at border crossings for being too brown. I have had friends turn on me since they found out I was Jewish and welcomed the fact rather than hiding it. I also do not want to hide the fact that being Sephardic means I have North African and Arabic roots to claim.

    Am I supposed to be angry at someone? Or feel shame for what is exterior? What exactly is my ‘privilege’? I am lighter than some, and darker than others? Do I bow down to those darker than I so that I assuage some supposed benefit of privilege from the fact that my Dad chose to pass as Native American from one relative rather than tell the truth of a greater racial problem in his history? My Mom being Askenazi was so pale the question never came up, and yet she walked in fear her entire life of what ‘might’ happen. And in VA, I get pinned as Native American automatically since I fit no other stereotype…except at my Synagogue, where everyone is so mixed they can only check their DNA to see what is what…even those who would be called Black or Hispanic.

    Racial Politics is merely politics, using the pain of living in this broken world as a tool to batter others into submission. It will change nothing except the lives harmed and destroyed in the struggle over who is acting ‘righteously’ according to the world. We are in the time of Nation against Nation and Ethnos against Ethnos, and no one’s hurts or losses will be compensated for until Yeshua comes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.