Friday, October 28, 2011

Bless the Police

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. - Jesus in Luke 6:27-28

After more than a month of systematic police brutality across the nation, police in Oakland, California ratched up the repression of peaceable assembly and free speech. Using tear gas, rubber bullets and flash grenades, police in riot gear brutally dispersed nonviolent demonstrators. Among those injured in the attacks was Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old veteran of the war in Iraq, who was critically wounded when a police officer shot him in the head with a tear gas canister.

Here at Occupy DC, we have been extremely fortunate in our good relations with the several police services that operate in our city. Our interactions with police have been generally cordial, and we have not felt threatened in any way. The police violence that our friends in Oakland - and many other cities - are suffering stands in stark contrast to our experience here in DC.

Nevertheless, the crack-down in Oakland has struck a nerve here. We have seen images out of Oakland that make us wonder about the direction our country is choosing. For many, these images have reenforced preexisting wounds (literal and figurative) and anger surrounding police. Many of us are very angry.

This came to the surface on Wednesday night, when folks at Occupy DC rallied in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Oakland. Folks at the rally were fired up, furious about what had gone down in California. When the police arrived, some of our young men had to be physically impeded to keep them from picking fights with the officers. Lots of emotion; lots of testosterone.

As the repression of this movement grows more serious, it is crucial that we re-commit ourselves to unconditional nonviolence as a movement. The nonviolent occupations around the world are a severe challenge to the powers that be; however, any hint of violence on our part will undermine all the gains we have made. Our moral authority depends on our willingness to be struck rather than to strike; to receive injury rather than to injure. Ultimately, our authority can only be founded on truth and love.

We occupiers are really good at the "truth" part. Most of us have highly developed analyses of the problems facing our country. We do a good job at pointing out what is wrong. But love is harder. Love requires us to lay down our own selfish interests and act for the sake of others. It means seeing the reality of God's love for others, even those who want to do us harm. Real love goes far beyond strategic nonviolence.

When we are grounded in love, we seek the spiritual and physical wholeness of every person. Love empowers us to see the broken humanity of each individual, and to have mercy on each one for Jesus' sake. When we are living in both love and truth, we are able to stand firm in the face of violence without needing to retalitate. We recognize that the violent person is sick - alienated from the love of God - and that we are called to reach out to them with mercy.

To be loving, however, does not require us to be naïve. We understand that the police - and, more importantly, the powers that give them orders - are not seeking our best interests. We understand that the powers are trembling, and that they are willing to do us harm in order to maintain their privilege. We have no illusions about the ultimate allegiance of the police.

But we must love them. It has been pointed out that police are also part of the 99%. Far more important than this, police officers are also children of God. Just like us, they are in desperate need of God's mercy and love. I pray that rather than falling into the trap of fear and hate, we will imitate Jesus who prayed for those who crucified him: "Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing."


Anonymous said...

This may be the best statement I have read today, "Love requires us to lay down our own selfish interests and act for the sake of others."

Great post.

The Digital Quaker said...

Your observation that "Real love goes far beyond strategic nonviolence", speaks deeply to me friend. It shows a much needed understanding that love, while the strongest tool to build with, can also be the most difficult to correctly wield. Keep up the good works Micah!

Daniel Wilcox said...


Thanks for these powerful words of the "Lamb's War," the war that wins through love not anger or violence.

Many in the occupy movement as well as the "establishment" need so desperately to hear your call to sacrificial love as demonstrated by Jesus toward the Romans.

Also, a side note: I don't know all of the police officers in Oakland and where their heart was at. But I do know that one of the officers there sees the other side of this conflict. The officer sees "protesters" acting out in violence, throwing rocks, etc., violating civil behavior.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I will gladly pray for the police; I care about their fate, and feel that my salvation and theirs may well be intertwined.

But the Beatitudes list the sorts of people that God blesses. And the behavior of the Oakland police doesn’t look like the kind that would make them eligible for that list. (Would you disagree?)

Lisa H said...

Having spent some time at Occupy Oakland, I am very aware that not all there are committed to nonviolence. This has been on my mind a lot. Nonviolence requires having something strong to fall back on when we are challenged, and it also requires a lot of practice. It comes naturally to me after a lifetime as a Quaker, with activist parents who talked about Gandhi at the dinner table. I have grown to be very slow to anger, and to look for ways to reach the humanity of others, striving to respond with love and creativity when I am confronted. But I have also lived a privileged life, never trapped in a threatening situation that I didn't have a way out of.

If I ask someone who has not grown up with nonviolence, who may have been faced with ongoing harassment or worse, to lay down their arms and follow my path, how am I honoring what they know to fall back on? I don't know yet how to hear and understand the willingness to fight back physically. I've never lived with either that level of testosterone or that level of oppression.

The civil rights movement would not have been what it was without the intensive nonviolence trainings that many participants attended at the Highlander Center. I want to know what they did right, and how they brought people around to nonviolence.

My calm, middle-aged, white, female, often singing voice may be able to convey some love and some de-escalation to the police. Perhaps that is part of the gift I can bring to the movement.

With all the conversations and the growing sense of vitality of the Occupy movement, I hope we all keep our hearts open to speak with and listen to our neighbors and fellow protesters. Yesterday one of my conversations at Occupy wandered to how we are reaching out for heaven on earth. I hope to have conversations that get to the heart of how carry ourselves in the world, and how well each of our sources of strength serve us and each other.

Micah Bales said...

@Marshall: I would agree that the actions of the police in Oakland do not demonstrate the fruits of Christ's Kingdom. I am wary, though, of judging them to be beyond the reach of God's love. I do not believe that is our role.

Rather, we are called to continue to reach out to our enemies with genuine love and real hope of their eventual reconciliation with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This does not mean that we overlook evil. But we must be willing to suffer injustice as a sign to the world, so that some might be saved - including, we pray, the front-line perpetrators of evil.

Nathan Harrington said...

Gordon Lafer said in this week's issue of The Nation that 54% of Americans support OWS. He doesn't say where he got that number, but I've heard elsewhere of polls showing majority support.