Why the outrage now? And what can we do next?

By now, you’ve heard Trump’s latest scandal. His words led me to make the image below and post it – along with my personal story of sexual assault – on Facebook. And then I took a Xanax, because his words plus my own PTSD created a physiological anxiety that couldn’t be quelled without pharmaceutical help.

That post been shared thousands of times now, and I’ve had to ban nearly 100 people from my author page for horribly disrespectful comments, most in defense of Trump. Let me repeat that: After I shared a painfully vulnerable history, a variety of Trump supporters chose to argue against my experience and, in a couple dozen of those comments, personally insult me.

I’m not shocked, though I wish I were. But I am confused, not by the comments but by the newly found outrage about Trump’s most recently released misogyny. Where was this before now?

Trump has said other terrible things about women, both in recent news breaks and older stories. In fact, a rape case against Trump – with a 13 year old victim – goes to court in December. So why the new outrage now? Why are the numbers rising of Republicans and Christians denouncing him?

I’m thankful for the Christians who had already said no way to Trump. I signed this statement. I said no to him from the beginning. I stand by that. I still do. (And I think it’s noteworthy that the signatories on that statement are more diverse on many counts, including gender and race, than those often seen in evangelical leadership, but I’ll get to more on that in a moment.)

This week Beth Moore spoke out. I thanked her. Russell Moore continued to speak out. I thanked him again, having done so in person previously. Others are joining them, while some – like Franklin Graham and James Dobson and Eric Metaxas – have sunk in their heels. (I’ll gladly update this post if any of those back down; Metaxas has deleted his initial tweet dismissing the latest scandalous words from the candidate he’s endorsed, so I'm hopeful.)

And then Wayne Grudem, who endorsed Trump as the moral choice for president, took back those words. He admitted,

Some may criticize me for not discovering this material earlier, and I think they are right. I did not take the time to investigate earlier allegations in detail, and I now wish I had done so. If I had read or heard some of these materials earlier, I would not have written as positively as I did about Donald Trump.

I am thankful Grudem has withdrawn his support. I’m even more thankful that he admitted he should have done more research before his prior endorsement. He could have retreated from his previous stance with less humility than that.

But? Many sound responses to Grudem’s piece existed well before this week. (The seven I’m linking here are just a few.) Grudem had the opportunity to right his wrong. And he didn’t. Not until now. Why? I’m glad we’re finally collectively saying, “That’s enough,” but why wait so long, after evangelical support for Trump has already tarnished our reputation?

Why is this our breaking point?

Here’s the main difference I see: now the people targeted by Trump's words have my fair skin. These Christian leaders look like me or my husband. In other words, they’re white. They keep talking about their wives or sisters or daughters, who are also white. Now that white women are being debased with his verbal abuse, we relate. We care. We empathize.

In other words, this time we consider the victims of his hate speech and his sexual assaults to be our neighbors, because they look like us. (And, yes, sexual assaults. That is, after all, what his words described.)

Those who he’s previously insulted and verbally defiled – Mexicans and other Latinos. People of color. Those with disabilities. Muslims. Refugees. – don’t look like us or our daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers. And so? Because we’ve defined them as the other, we don’t relate. We don’t care, not in such a personal way. We don’t empathize. We simply change the channel or say, “but abortion…” as if these other lives don’t matter to us too.

In other words, those other times we didn’t consider the victims of his hate speech and his verbal assaults to be our neighbors, because they aren’t like us.

“Who is my neighbor?” a lawyer asked Christ in an exchange recorded in Luke 10.

Jesus didn’t answer that his neighbor is his mother or wife or daughter or sister. No, Jesus offers a story of an injured man on the side of the road, a brutalized victim belonging to a group considered to be different and other and less than and dirty. The priest wouldn’t touch him because doing so would have made him unclean and would have required a return to the temple to cleanse himself. He couldn’t be bothered. Likewise, the Levite passed by.

Then the Samaritan showed up – surprising the audience listening to Jesus (as Samaritans were generally despised by Jews and vice versa) – and became the unlikely hero. He showed compassion, backed it up with action and money, and set a model for us all. And Jesus said to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.”

I’m glad we’re finally noticing Trump’s hateful words. But I wish we had cared enough for those who aren’t white women to notice it before. I wish we hadn’t disavowed black people, those with disabilities, Muslims, refugees, and so many more as our neighbors by withholding our outrage until now.

In other words, I wish we had all acted a little more like the Good Samaritan and a lot more like Christ.

Take heart, though. There’s still time. We have failed to love God with our whole hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves, but let this be the moment when the Spirit convicts us to confess and repent from our sins.

Let today be the day that we all start listening to the pain of our neighbors.

(All of them, and not just the ones who look like me.)

Let today be the day when we pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of God rather than to any political party.

Let today be the day we heed Christ’s words.

Let today be the day we go and do likewise.



"So what are you now? You've changed."

I’m a liberal. I’m a conservative. I’m pro-life. I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-abortion. I’m anti-woman. I’m anti-baby. I’m anti-adoption. I’m pro-adoption. I'm too secular. I’m evangelical. I’m damned to hell. I’m leading others astray. I’m progressive. I’m not progressive enough.

It’s amazing what my more controversial blog posts have led folks to say, huh?

If they aren’t outright labeling me, people are asking questions. Am I still a conservative Christian? Am I still evangelical? Am I a secular humanist now? Am I a Democrat? Am I a Republican? Am I still pro-life if I’m voting for Hillary? Am I still a Christian at all, if I hold the stances I’ve made public lately?

I find the conversation and questions to be a bit curious. For starters, very few people have asked these questions of me before now. Previously, it was just fine as long as I kept my mouth shut. I’m not sure if assumptions were made about my beliefs or if a don’t ask don’t tell sort of policy was in place.

I’m done with silence, though. And I’m done with letting people assume a false reality about me. I’m using my voice faithfully and honestly and vulnerably, even when it might get me in trouble. (As I recall, some religious folks weren't too keen on Jesus after all. So the cries to metaphorically crucify me for speaking truth and justice and love as I try to be more like him? I'm not intimidated by those.)

I will answer any questions that you have, but I won’t answer questions about labels. If you ask me “am I evangelical?” I will probably ask you what you mean by that. I would say that I absolutely am, in that I believe that we are called as Christians to evangelize, to share the gospel with a world that needs good news, and to represent Jesus in a way that makes others want to know him. I believe we all need the light and hope and healing God offers as we often chase after things he never intended for us.

But if you mean evangelical as in the way that I vote or the way that I treat a certain demographic or the rules I adhere to concerning who is and isn’t welcome in this Christian club of ours, then I don’t think that I am an evangelical after all. (I’m not alone in shrugging off this title. I recently signed this evangelical statement against Trump’s campaign. Even Russell Moore recently wrote about how this election cycle has him hesitant to self-describe as an evangelical.)

So am I an evangelical? I say yes. You might say no. And that’s why I’m going to ask for clarification the next time someone asks me where I set up camp.

Please, don’t think I’m being snarky here. I understand that theology and stances matter, especially coming from someone who might be inviting me to speak at their conference or partner with their organization on a writing project. I get that you might need to check some things with me. I am more than happy to offer answers toward that end. But I don't think labels serve us well or offer the clarity we want.

The second reason this discussion is curious to me is that none of my recent stances or posts are anything new. I haven’t voiced them, but I have believed them long before going public. Nothing is new here, except for my decision to be vocal on less than safe topics.

So if you felt like I was acceptable or well-reasoned or worth reading before, well, then that’s still me. Nothing has changed there. If you thought I was a woman of God, seeking his wisdom through a regular rhythm of scripture reading, prayer, and worship, none of that is different. (If anything, I'm spending more meaningful time in those practices now.) If you felt like I was adept at expressing why the inclusion of people with disabilities and mental illness in the church isn’t just a social issue but is one that is tied to the very essence of what we believe about Christ and whether or not we treat his words like they are really true, I’m still that person. 

I get that I have outed myself as not aligning myself with some people’s versions of what Christianity is, of how Christians should vote, of who Christians should love, of what Christians should say about race, and of how Christians should treat the LGBTQ+ community, but I believed all those things before. Reading between the lines of my posts, you’ll see that. If you look into my friends, you’ll see that. If you ask my neighbors, you’d know that.

I haven’t hidden my beliefs completely, but I held them quietly. I did it out of fear, out of privilege, out of a desire to not rock the boat for the church I used to attend and the ministry for which I used to work, out of the intent to speak to the broadest groups of Christians with a message of inclusion for people with disabilities… but I’m done being quiet. I’m done standing by when I see people justify, invoking Christ’s name, stances that I oppose because of my Christian faith. I’m done being a white Christian who, in the words of Jim Wallis, embraces being white more than being Christian. I’m done shrinking to make others more comfortable and to avoid controversy. I’m done saying this doesn’t affect me, because as a member of humanity, it does.

I can handle disagreements. I can take questions. I’m even okay with criticism.

But this is me, and it’s always been me. So, please, don’t try to back me into a neat box or tidy category. I don’t think it works when we try to do that to God, shaping him in our image instead of seeing everyone as crafted in his. And I don’t think setting up divisions and persisting in who’s-in-and-who’s-out thinking serves Christ or his church well.

Since my first political post went semi-viral around the same time that we switched from a Southern Baptist church to a United Methodist one, the backlash from all sides has been a little overwhelming. My conservative friends (and strangers) have said that I'm not one of them anymore, while my progressive friends are ready to welcome me in open arms to their side. Meanwhile, I'm not comfortable with either, nor am I convinced that we do the church any good by dividing ourselves into such dichotomous camps. Some real fallout has occurred in relationships and opportunities, but I don't regret anything I've written or said.

This is me. Someone recently suggested that I was trying to be the next Jen Hatmaker or Rachel Held Evans, but that’s not true or fair (though I have been moved by the words of both of those fabulous women). I’m simply trying to be the most honest and authentic Shannon Dingle as I can be as I follow the one true God who has transformed and continues to transform my heart to be more like his.

I love Jesus, and I love people. That’s enough labeling for me. 

No, Mike Pence, adoption isn't the answer to abortion.

Should adoption be the pro-life response to abortion? Mike Pence suggested that last night. Some adoption advocates cheered. I didn’t, because I don’t agree.

Surprised? I get that. After all, I’m a mom of six, four by adoption. And I’ve written and spoken about being pro-life consistently.

I’m passionate about adoption.

I’m passionate about life (even when my view is unpopular among some pro-lifers).

So where’s the disconnect for me?   

It’s simple. Adoption is not the opposite of abortion. Birth is. After a child is born, a variety of outcomes are possible, and adoption is only one. One, for example, is parenting.

If a woman is considering abortion, our response as a country shouldn’t be simply to take her child. Yes, it is helpful for some of us to be willing to adopt so that expectant mothers can have that option if they desire placement of their child in another family. But our first response should be to care for the mother. A genuinely biblical pro-life stance values all life because of the Life Giver. Doesn’t that extend to the mother and not just the fetus? Doesn’t loving our neighbor as we love ourselves mean we don’t decide a woman’s only value is to be an incubator for an unborn child? Our moral, political, and religious imperatives to value life can’t leapfrog over the pregnant one in defense of the one with whom she’s pregnant.

It's simple: do we value life? Or do we just value babies?

Let’s start by admitting that the reasons women choose abortion are many. We’re being reductive if we act as if every abortion would have ended in adoption if the child had been born. Some women choose abortion for children they would have otherwise raised, but poverty or health concerns making pregnancy painful or lack of other supports lead them to terminate. If job training were provided or medical access guaranteed or economic supports available to meet those needs, some of those moms would not only give birth but also raise their own children instead of relinquishing them to another family. Or in the case of abortions chosen because of a prenatal diagnosis of a non-fatal disability, disability awareness and support can help present life as a more viable option (and thankfully research indicates Down syndrome abortion rates are dropping because of such cultural changes, which have been holistically championed by only one of the candidates, Hillary).

Furthermore, there's yet another significant flaw in Pence's words from last night: 

"There are so many families around the country who can't have children. We could improve adoption so that families that can't have children can adopt more readily those children from crisis pregnancies."

Again, we're assuming a lot when we suppose that the crisis in a crisis pregnancy is the need for a different set of parent. But the second fallacy here is that we don't have enough children available for adoption as it is. That's not true, though. For families who want to adopt children, they'll find no lack of opportunity. According to AdoptUSKids.org more than 100,000 children in foster care are legally free for adoption. This process has minimal cost (with tax credits to recover any expenses not covered by the state).

So if we want to talk about the value of life, how about the value of the lives of those children? How about we have a real conversation about how many waiting kids have disabilities, a group which Trump has disrespected again and again throughout his campaign? And Pence wants to rally for a candidate who has supported adoption efforts via legislation, that's great... it just would have to be Hillary.

Abortion involves real women and real unborn children and real difficult decisions.

Adoption involves real women and real children (many of whom are born and have been waiting for families for some time or should be reunited with their first families) and real difficult decisions.

None of these are tidy issues fit for sound bites. Hillary doesn’t want to kill babies. Trump might have changed his stance from when he was vocally pro-choice. But? Neither has a great track record on supporting unborn lives. Only one has a track record of affirming born lives. That’s why I wrote previously about how my pro-life convictions mean that I’m with her. 

So, can adoption be a valid response to abortion? Yes and no.

Yes, because being pro-life means more than just being pro-fetus, and adoption shows a concern for children after birth. No, because adoption isn’t simply a political or moral statement but rather a lifelong commitment to parenting. 

My pro-life beliefs did influence our decision to adopt, but my children’s first parents weren’t a means to an end but rather image bearers of God who we love dearly. And my children aren’t protest symbols or principled statements. They’re my children.

Adoption should be our response to a child in need of a family. Meanwhile, support in a variety of forms should be our response to a pregnant woman in need. Let’s not confuse the two.

Note: I never meant to become a political blogger. I still don’t fancy myself to be that. But I do aim to write about the important things. This? This is important. So is rape and parenting and alcoholism and racism and education and church inclusion and medicine and worship and self-worth so much more. I write about those things too, because they - like abortion and adoption and present presidential election - are topics that matter to me.

maybe white pushback against the African American History Museum is about something more

I shouldn't have been, but I found myself surprised at the white pushback I’ve seen to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, either you haven't read any comments on news articles or visited Twitter.)

Why an African American Museum? I hear. (Um, because these stories need to be told.)

Where’s the White Museum? I hear. (Um, how about every other museum there is?) That was my first response, and I felt like it was right and good. I saw others expressing the same sentiment.

But then I thought a little longer, and I became uncomfortable with the realizations I uncovered. I have to admit now that the National Museum of African American History and Culture tells my story too (and I’m not talking about my three black children when I say that).

throwback picture to when we were an all-white family with only one child and to when I wore suits and pearls 

throwback picture to when we were an all-white family with only one child and to when I wore suits and pearls 

I haven’t been to the museum yet, but I expect there are exhibits on slavery. My ancestors include white slave-owners in the South. That’s my history too.

I haven’t taken a deep breath while standing before this museum, but I expect to read about how our Constitution didn’t value black Americans as full people. My ancestors supported that. That’s my history too.

I haven’t walked into the hard-fought-for museum yet, but I expect to find stories of the Civil War. Maybe I’d find excerpts from states’ articles of secession, as these four cited slaves or slavery 83 times in their reasons. Some notable examples include “we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery” from Georgia and “our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world…. a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization” from South Carolina and a commitment to “maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery-- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits-- a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time” from Texas. Actually, to spotlight Texas for a moment, I want to quote this too: “We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.” I’m spending so much time pointing out the racist roots here because I’ve seen recent pushback against them and because I am dismayed by my own history here. My ancestors fought for the Confederate States in that war, and I’ve heard that our family tree includes Jefferson Davis, the president of those states. That’s my history too.

I haven’t gotten to bring my children into that museum yet, but I expect to see stories of black soldiers who fought in WWII and the Vietnam War. My ancestors fought in those wars too, with both grandfathers in WWII and my father a Green Beret in Vietnam. The difference is that they fought to preserve rights already extended to people who look like me while those black soldiers fought for a country that denied them many of those same rights. That’s my history too.

I haven’t yet shed tears in the halls of that museum, but I expect to see stories of white people who stood for segregation in school and communities and who opposed (or still oppose) affirmative action. My ancestors and even some living relatives are among those white people. That’s my history too.

I haven’t had my heart broken to see Emmett Till’s coffin in that museum, but I know he died at the hands of people who look like me. I know he didn’t get justice because of people who look like me. I know his grave was disrespectfully dug up, which is why his coffin can be displayed, as even his dead body was devalued by people who look like me. I know my ancestors were involved in other – maybe even similar – acts of treating people of color as if they weren’t made in the image of God, even though we all are. That’s my history too.

When we, as white people in this country, say a museum of African American history doesn’t tell our stories too, we’re lying. It does. It just tells stories that don’t put us in the best light, stories that show our ancestors on the wrong side of history, stories that we’re simply not proud of.

Maybe your story isn’t like mine. Maybe your ancestors weren’t here at the beginning of this nation. Maybe you want to shrug off our racist past as not being your own. If so, I get that. But I’d also challenge you to think about the privileges we – all white people – get when people who look like us have held the most power in politics and business and churches and education and more in this country. That history is why skin-colored bandaids are made to match us while I have to special order ones for my black children. It’s why shows that feature people who look like me are simply called shows but ones that feature a primarily black cast are called black entertainment. It’s why, out of the top 500 grossing companies in our country, only 5 have black CEOs while the vast majority look like me (or, more accurately, my husband). It’s why for the past 21 years, only 10% of children’s books included multicultural content while it’s easy for white children to see themselves reflected there. It’s why, even in 2003, the same resume from a stereotypically white-sounding name got 50% more callbacks than an identical resume from a stereotypically black-sounding names. I could go on – as this famous piece does – but I think I’ve made my point. Even if your ancestors didn’t engage in the racist acts that mine did, the benefits of white privilege afforded to me are also available to you.

African American history is American history. It is. But as white people have historically gotten to write the history books and control the biases there, we have been able to rewrite stories to favor us a bit more. (One reason black homeschooling is on the rise, in fact, is this failure for public schools to teach history through anything but a Euro-centric lens.) For example, one textbook recently raised eyebrows by referring to those brought by the slave trade as immigrant “workers” with the implication that they were paid or came by choice. Even the misunderstandings about slavery’s role in the Civil War can be traced back to textbooks whitewashing our history.

Maybe white pushback to the African American Museum isn’t about black history. It’s about white history and the discomfort we have in owning it all. And maybe it isn’t about history at all. It’s about the current state of racism in our country and our refusal to see how the past has brought us to this point.

Maybe it’s time to clean out our closets and come face to face with some skeletons there. That will be hard, certainly. We might have to admit that the 26% of white people (and 40% of Trump supporters) who believe black people are lazy (leading to their poverty and other societal issues) can only do so by denying a history in which people who look like me oppressed black people by enslaving them with no pay and then confining them to the lowest wages and the worst conditions in housing and school, restricting them from colleges, job training, and welfare programs, and preventing them from positions of political, economic, or social power. We might have to admit that while we’re quick as white people to decry the black crime rate, the ways in which whites oppressed blacks created higher rates of poverty which thereby result in higher rates of crime (and, while we’re at it, higher rates of absent fathers and homelessness and educational difficulties and other symptoms we like to talk about while ignoring the causes). We might have to acknowledge that many of these realities are recent in our history, such that my parents' public schools didn't admit black children and at least one of my grandparents grew up with black servants who, while not slaves, were paid and treated in a less dignifying way than white household workers would have been. We might have to get comfortable with these stories on the lower levels of the museum, the stories of white people treating black people as subhuman, instead of camping out with the stories of those black stars we regard as superhuman in their exceptionality: Gabby Douglas and Ben Carson and Muhammed Ali and more. But maybe it’s time to look at and own the hard parts of our history too.

Maybe it’s past time.

And maybe once we do, the idea of this much-needed National Museum of African American History and Culture will make more sense to us.

one of those days

All of us have had one of those days: a day we know, for sure, will be recounted again and again. The story of the day will live on as the calendar pages turn and the years change and new generations rise up. Now we might call such a day “epic;” who knows what lingo we might choose in the future.

Last fall offered one such day. Jocelyn has always been heavily involved in the boys and girls chasing each other scene at recess. In kindergarten, she chased them. By first grade, they were mostly chasing her, as they recognized her speed had surpassed theirs. They laughed and ran and played. Then they did it all over the next day.

Well, last fall Jocelyn had a new pink coat. It was furry and soft and came with a matching beret-like hat. She loved that jacket. And the boys, seeing that, snatched the pink softness at recess, and they ran. And she chased. And it was fun.

Until it wasn’t.

Now my girl didn’t just inherit my propensity to hang with the boys. She also inherited my moxie. She decided that day to end the game. She wanted to wear the coat again. She wanted it back. NOW. So the chasing became goal-driven instead of game-making.

The boys? As it often goes in third grade, the boys didn’t clue in to what their girl friend wanted. They didn’t know the game was over. They kept playing.

And then, as they ran, they ended up in a part of the schoolyard beyond the reach of teachers’ eyes. Jocelyn, done with the game, was trapped. The group of boys, still playing along, were clueless. One of them taunted, “We’ve got you cornered! What are you going to do now?”

And so, she punched him.

I heard secondhand that his mouth was bloody. A teacher said his tooth was loose, adding that it might have been a permanent one. Rumor has it that she landed a few kicks and blows among the other boys too.

I love my children dearly, but I neglect my answering machine. I’m a holdout who still has a home phone, and the teacher called that number to talk to us about what happened. Of course, I didn’t listen, not at first. No, I found out about the incident after school when another mom texted me to say, “I’m friends with ____, [bloodied-mouth boy’s] mom, and she asked me to tell you that she is mortified about what happened on the playground and so sorry for what her son did to Jocelyn.”

Naturally, I called Jocelyn over to ask if anything noteworthy happened at school that day. She shrugged. “Maybe during recess?” I offered.

“Oh,” she said. “That. Well, I probably should have made a different choice, but some boys cornered me and no teachers were around and so I hit and kicked them some. I talked to Ms Benson about what other choices I can make if it ever happens again.”

Well, as you might imagine, it hasn’t happened again. The boys in her grade know Jocelyn is not one to be messed with. The boys in other grades have heard too. They know she’s a warrior girl.

Before I move on to the next story, I want you to think about Jocelyn. How would you have felt if you were me? Proud, maybe? (I certainly was.) Comforted that your brave daughter is able and willing to stand up for herself? (YES.) Thankful that she knows other choices can be made. (Of course.) And maybe even unwilling to dole out a negative consequence because she clearly knew right from wrong. (That’s how we handled it.)


Now let’s flip some calendar pages to earlier this week.

We saw the aftermath of a Groundhog’s Day scenario. Another video showed the death of an unarmed black man at the hands of those meant to protect and serve, this time in Tulsa. A video from another city – St. Louis – caught other officers conspiring to falsify charges against a protester. And then a man in my own state was killed by officers who came to serve an arrest warrant for someone else, and none of the stories match in his death, though the authorities are refusing to release the footage of the incident to the public or the deceased man’s family.

If this was one isolated week, that might not be a huge deal. But we all know that’s not the case.

And so, protests – even violent protests – broke out. I’m not saying two wrongs make a right, but I’m saying that heaps of wrongs that haven’t been made right create anger. I’m saying we, as a society, have backed our black neighbors and friends into a corner and told them to stay in their place there.

What are you going to do now? we taunt.

Walk home in your neighborhood wearing a hoodie? You die.

Enter a convenience store? You die.

Pick up an air rifle in WalMart while talking on the phone to your wife? You die.

Walk with a toy gun as a child, maybe 12 or 13 years young? You die on video, or maybe you die in an alley with the police cameras mysteriously not operating.

Legally carry a concealed weapon? You die.

Carry a closed knife? You die.

Walk down the street with your hands in your pockets? You die.

Enter a stairwell with your girlfriend? You die.

Sleep on the couch in your living room? You die.

Sleep in a park downtown? You die.

Sell cigarellos on the streets of New York City? You die.

Sell CDs at a gas station? You die.

Run away without threatening anyone? You die.

Seek help after a car accident? You die.

Start your car after a traffic stop? You die.

Fail to signal a lane change? You get arrested unlawfully and then you die.

Get arrested and transported by police? You die.

Run from an officer who can’t tell the difference between his gun and his taser? You die.

Talk too loudly with your friends? You die.

These aren’t mere stories. They each have a name. In order of the list above, they are Trayvon Martin. Levar Jones. John Crawford. Tamir Rice. Tyre King. Philando Castile. Laquan McDonald. Ezell Ford. Akai Gurley. Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Dontre Hamilton. Eric Garner. Alton Sterling. Walter Scott. Jonathan Ferrell. Samuel DuBose. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray. Eric Harris. Rekia Boyd. (And there are more I didn't list.)

So you’re cornered with examples of systemic racism and police brutality on all sides.

So, what are you going to do now? we taunt.

We see Jocelyn, cornered in the schoolyard, by a group larger than her both in numbers and body size, with no one in authority offering help. And we say “atta girl” when she punches.

But we see our black brothers and sisters, cornered by institutional racism, by a group holding greater privilege (perhaps a group to which you belong, like I do), with those in authority doing the killing and the covering up, while good cops who would never do that sort of thing allow it to continue by never speaking out against those who do. (And those who do speak out, God bless them, are few.) And we shake our heads and insult them when they protest peacefully by taking a knee during the national anthem.

So then why are we surprised when they throw a punch in response, in desperation, in a desire to be seen and heard and validated, a hope that one day the wrongful death of a black man at the hands of a white officer will be met with the same care and justice as the wrongful death of an officer is? No one is saying that black lives matter more than police officers’ do. But our culture and courts are showing that police officers’ lives matter more than black lives.


Why are you making this about race?

I hear this question often. The answer is simple: because. it. is.

Bias studies, like this one, indicate that police are more likely to shoot unarmed blacks than unarmed whites.

In real life, research has shown that for the same crimes, blacks are treated unfairly by our justice system. In NYC, for example, blacks (and Hispanics) are more likely to be detained, convicted, and incarcerated for the same crime of misdemeanor marijuana possession than their white neighbors. In urban areas (Seattle, Chicago, and Baltimore, in this particular study), even after controlling for actual neighborhood crime levels, a higher percentage of young Black men in a community was associated with greater perceptions of crime.

In areas in which we’ve had recent racially charged incidents, the Department of Justice investigations have found disturbing trends in the policing. In Baltimore, they cited a pattern of unlawful use of enforcement against black citizens, including disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests, as well as the use of excessive force and frequent retaliation against black individuals for constitutionally-protected public expression, as compared to whites. In Ferguson, the report showed a greater likelihood to issue citations, use person-to-person force, use police dog-to-person force, and issue arrest warrants for blacks than whites – as well as a lesser likelihood to dismiss charges against blacks than whites – without any indication that people of different races actually committed crimes at different rates in that area.

And if your knee-jerk response is “what about police lives?” I understand your perspective. After all, I’m the daughter of a retired law enforcement officer who devoted his career to criminal justice after serving in Vietnam. I care deeply about police officers, and I grieve their deaths and injuries too. That said, this movement isn’t merely about death; it’s about justice. When a police officer dies, we’re all confident justice will be done, as the offender will be sought and arrested and charged and found guilty and sentenced for the crime. When someone is wrongly killed by an officer, however, that officer will be placed on leave for a while and might lose the job but accountability for those actions isn’t likely. So, yes, police lives matter, and that’s shown in our justice system. Meanwhile, according to the same system, black lives don’t matter or matter less. Furthermore, fewer police officers died in shootings in 2015 than the previous year, even as that year and prior years saw racial unrest come to the surface with greater awareness, largely due to social media and the filming of police brutality incidents. (Now, some statistics show that they might be higher in 2016, but seeing a drop in one racially charged year and a rise in another shows that the race-related strife isn’t the only factor here.)

And what about the resounding pushback about black-on-black crime? Well, FBI homicide statistics show that the majority of homicides committed from 1980-2008 were by white murderers against white victims. Those same stats show that white offenders are more likely to kill children or senior citizens and more likely to commit sex-related, gang-related, and workplace-related homicides than blacks. Furthermore, white offenders were more likely to commit mass murders as well. This wasn’t just true during those years; the most recent year of data available from the FBI shows this pattern too. I could offer other examples as well. The reality is that we live in segregated communities in this country, and we’re more likely to victimize or be victimized by someone in close geographic proximity to us. So until we’re willing to admit that white-on-white crime is a problem and acknowledge that the black community has been taking action against black-on-black crime, the words “but black-on-black crime” feel like dirty distractions drenched in racism.

I’ve only skimmed the surface with the citations above, but – as the mother of black, white, and Asian children – I’ve deep dived into it all. This and this are great resources for reading further on this issue, as well as the books The New Jim Crow, Between the World and Me, and Just Mercy.

Simply put, one of my sons is more likely to have positive encounters with the police than the other, unless something changes.



So what can we do?

1. Be a changemaker.

Just like Jocelyn wouldn’t have been cornered by those boys if those in authority had made different choices (like positioning teachers on duty so no blind spots existed), senseless killings and overpolicing in the black community can be changed by different choices too. Use your online presence to speak out against injustice or to amplify the voices of people of color. Listen well – online and in person – to those whose lived experiences are different from yours without saying “but…” or telling them to hold back their emotion until more facts are available. Contact your local police department to ask what anti-bias training officers currently receive. (The good news in the research is that some kinds of anti-bias trainings have been proven effective.) Once you know that, write your local lawmakers to share what you’ve learned and, maybe even using the statistics I shared above, ask for consideration and funding to better equip officers. Do or say something. Now is not the time for silence out of fear or apathy.

2. If you choose not to be a changemaker, don’t judge those who punch when cornered.

If you won’t do anything more than shake your head at violence toward black communities by some in law enforcement, then you don’t get to shake your head when their anger spills over. I don’t like kids fighting at school, but I was proud that Jocelyn punched that boy. I don’t like violence, but I can’t say I don’t understand why some people feel like that’s the only way to get white neighbors to care. After all, people lost their minds because a black football player didn’t kneel, so if we won’t pay attention to peaceful protests, we can’t act surprised when the peaceful part gets left behind.

3. When you’re part of a system that benefits from another group’s cornering, recognize that.

I was moved by the mother of the boy Jocelyn punched, when she – knowing my daughter’s punch made her son bleed – apologized. She didn’t corner Jocelyn, but as his mom, she’s part of the family system that did. All white people and all officers don’t engage in police brutality against black people, but we do live in a system that privileges white skin (which I unpack more in this post) while others aren’t as #blessed. No civil rights movement achieves success unless those who already hold the rights and privileges stand with those who don’t. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in 1963,

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

While we’re at it, when you cherry pick which of Dr. King’s words you share, remember he was killed for being too revolutionary. He wasn’t welcomed. And about violence, he said in 1968,

But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?... It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

In other words, don’t invoke his name against riots unless you’re willing to wrestle with all of his words. As far as other names, the ones I listed above, I could have researched facts about each. I considered offering the sorts of vignettes we do to humanize people, to make them multidimensional, to show that their lives had value before a bullet cut it short. But here’s the thing: THEY ARE ALREADY HUMAN. We shouldn’t have to say Aiyana loved Disney princesses or Terence was about to start community college or Tyre was only 4’11” and not even 100 pounds to say that their lives matter. Furthermore, no criminal records or past drug use or divorce could make their lives matter less.

(Why is it that we share swimming stats for convicted rapists while we malign the memory of unarmed black men killed by police? This is not okay. No one should have to earn their right to be treated as human, but I worry that one of my sons will more than the other.)

Our country has been having a lot of those days: days we know, for sure, will be recounted again and again. The story of the day will live on as the calendar pages turn and the years change and new generations rise up. Now we mark these days with hashtags, daring to say their names and recognize their humanity so that we might know better and do better in the future.

At the end of these days, I pray that my children can be proud of where I stood and with whom I stood at this moment in history.