Over and over again, I see individuals respond to the world’s atrocities in this way. They see a figure that embodies hatred and corruption and advocate for ways to destroy or remove the individual displaying destructive ignorance. They demand that the individual alone who has committed widespread violence be abolished.
I think that this approach to justice is very naive. And I think that this is precisely the approach to justice that the powers that be want our imaginations to be limited to. They don’t want us to see the bigger picture. They do not want us to imagine a world beyond white supremacy, beyond disposability, beyond domination.
Dylan Roof is potentially facing state punishment. And, I’m not gonna do what many white folks do: which is to advocate against the death penalty a white killer faces while simultaneously failing to advocate for black folks who commit a small or no crime at all.
But I will say this: I absolutely believe that the federal punishment of Roof will not solve the issue at hand. And black people know this.
I believe that the state might kill Roof in order to fool those among us who have yet to figure out what justice they truly desire. Killing Roof is more about the United State’s public image than about justice for the families of the victims. The state recognition of Roof’s responsibility for his crime might provide closure for the families, but putting him to death does nothing to change or improve the lives of the victims, as Ijeoma Oluo reminds us. Rather, it leaves white supremacy unchallenged and it leaves the lives of the victims unchanged. Another Roof could pop up tomorrow or 2 years from now, because the state and the majority culture does not acknowledge the role that white supremacy and other narratives of domination play into what he has done. The state is not sorry. It cannot and does not value life. It is only meant to preserve the order that its most powerful and complacent subjects allow.
So, because we cannot rely on the state to deliver real justice to us, we have to know what kind of justice we believe in. And we have to know what justice looks like for our communities. We have to listen to the people who are telling the world what justice looks like:
“Stop poisoning our water. Help us to steward it.”
“Stop discriminating against our black children in schools and let them thrive and be children.”
“Allow us a place to live our lives peaceably, away from the cold of the Denver streets”.
Justice is not killing one white supremacist. Justice is abolishing white supremacy and white vulnerability. Justice is creating a beloved community where no one becomes a Dylan Roof so that families won’t live in fear.
Justice is not killing a war-mongerer. Justice is allowing for a world where people are fed and can advocate for their rights without the threat of violence and suppression. Justice is betraying the impulse to ignore and suppress the voice of your neighbor crying out for food and water. Justice is feeding them. Justice is accepting your responsibilities.
Justice is not impeaching a corrupt president. Justice is filling the land with thriving communities where people know each other, trust each other and are in right relationship with one another.
When we see history repeating itself, we have to realize that the problem is that collectively we have not learned the lessons that we needed to learn. We may have missed what we should have gleaned from our history lessons. We may not even know our own histories.
We need policy that reflects our values, but policy alone won’t save us. A friend of mine reminded me and group of people that here in the United States, we are facing the threat of hard fought policies being reversed because of a culture of corrupt values. If we collectively do not know what our values are and if we collectively fail to see that living out and spreading our values of life is part of our work of social change, we will keep watching the Roofs, Assads and Trumps rise before us. We will watch the Bannons and the Jerry Falwell Jrs take their thrones in a society that values destruction. All of this, because we have yet to fully recognized that our struggles are also deeply emotional and spiritual. The work of social change is also that of changing our collective and individual values.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
What do you value? And how are you manifesting your values, privately, publicly, politically?
If you are wondering how you can help Aleppo right now there are many ways, though sadly, it appears we are much at the stage of damage control. This is a conflict that started years ago, a repression of a people demanding revolution, among many other concerns.
You can call your elected officials and express your concerns. Or organize a vigil or protest to raise public awareness or agitate your campus, your elected officials, your institution. Challenge the polices that encourage distrust of people from other countries and cultures, the policies that make it difficult for victims to escape the violence.
Put pressure on you church or college campus to become a place of sanctuary for refugees. Encourage your church to use their power to put pressure on the government.
You can give to organizations like Premptive Love: https://preemptivelove.nationbuilder.com/aleppo
But also reflect on how your actions are aligned with your values and how you can manifest those values in other ways, not just in times of trouble, but during the mundane hours of your life. Be acquainted with the history of the issues that we face today, so that you can recognize the evils. There will be a time where you must recognize the evil when it wears a different face.