Posted on Wicked Local Cambridge on Jun. 29, 2020
Author: Eve Sullivan
A democracy relies on law and order, yes. However, “the smallest democracy at the heart of society” (as the 1994 UN International Year of the Family called it), a family, needs love and order. Amid the rightful outrage and peaceful street protests worldwide, it is nearly impossible to muster the peace of mind required to focus on love in our hearts, our homes, our communities.
How can we explain the killing of yet another Black man, Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, after George Floyd in Minneapolis, by a white police officer? How can we explain this to ourselves, to our children, to the world? There may be answers to these questions, but not easy ones. What we must do is recognize the horror, name it, and look for its origin, deep in our individual, social, cultural and political lives.
Where and how does such fundamental disregard for the life of another human being take root and grow in someone charged with protecting and serving his community? The first question I have asked myself, in the past, when reading yet another story of gun violence and mass murder, was always, how was that person raised, and how did the habits of mind and heart become ingrained in him that led him to commit such an awful act?
Now I ask that question again with, if possible, greater urgency. What early and ongoing influences on that Minnesota police officer underlie his utterly appalling act? What hardened him to such a degree that he could, casually, one hand in his pocket, in broad daylight, on camera, snuff out the life of a fellow human being?
Psychology would probably tell me that the officer had to have been in the grip of a mix of feelings and thoughts for the nearly nine minutes he spent with his knee on George Floyd’s neck. Both feelings and thoughts can be good or bad, and one can override the other. Positive thoughts — and the principles embodied in our laws — can keep us from acting on negative feelings. Positive feelings can help us diminish the effects of negative thoughts. Clearly the bad took over that day in that officer; or, perhaps, psychology would say it was an utter absence of both feeling and thought that allowed that man to do what he did.
I believe that violence in society will be reduced only as we change how we raise our children, especially how we raise our boys. Boys and girls, both, need to be raised with empathy and strength if we want them to become empathetic and strong adults. Parents must understand that empathy and strength are not opposites; rather, they complement each other. We must, as parents, learn how to model and teach both as we raise our children.The difficult process of self-reflection among individuals who enjoy considerable privilege, called for many times in the past, must begin now. We don’t need to have the answer at the start of the conversation, but we must begin it. Only when we open our hearts and minds to the feelings and thoughts of those who do not share our privilege, or who share it only marginally, will we be able to rebuild our wonderful, imperfect country.
If charity begins at home, so do racism, classism and sexism; all elitisms of various stripes. What part have I played in perpetuating the climate of fear and hate in which George Floyd’s murder was committed? What part can I play in creating confidence and respect in my fellow citizens, whatever their race, socio-economic standing or gender identity or expression, and dismantling institutionalized racism so that such an atrocity does not happen again?
We face two pandemics. To counter the medical threat, we must separate physically. To counter the social threat, we must come together emotionally, spiritually and politically. We can and must face both threats, and I believe that we need to start in our homes.
Cambridge resident Eve Sullivan is the founder of Parents Forum, a nonprofit parent-peer support program.