Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Language of the Unheard

"Martin Luther King Jt. Monument" 

When I was teaching college courses in Interpersonal Communication, we would often deal with the subject of "conflict resolution," and I would always remind my students that many times when we find ourselves in conflicts and disputes with others, deeper, beneath -the surface-issues are almost always at play. So for example, a husband and wife may be engaged in a hot dispute over a seemingly little issue like putting the cap on the tube of toothpaste. When in reality,  the unresolved issue of the husband's infidelity is really what is flaming the fire or their rage.

Yesterday riots erupted on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri after a Grand Jury failed to indict a White police officer for shooting a Black teenager. One astute commentator suggested that the rage and violence on the streets was being fueled by the "opening of old wounds" - that made a whole lot of sense to me.

One might argue that justice had been served yesterday - for months, a Grand Jury had listened to evidence and decided not to move ahead with any charges against the police officer. In fact, I just heard a report on our local station in which an older, White professional man expressed his indignation and confusion about what went on in Ferguson. He couldn't figure out why there was such anger, chaos and rage over the "no-indictment" verdict. In his opinion, "a fair legal process had been administered, justice has been served, so why can't they just let it go? "

I actually think the riots in Ferguson go way beyond a conflict over the indictment of one police officer. I think the riots have indeed sprung up out of old wounds that have been festering beneath the surface for years. The conflict yesterday may appear to be about Michael Brown and Officer Wilson, but the rage on the streets is really all about unresolved, underlying issues that have plagued this society since we first became a nation. 

Old wounds inflicted as far back as the time of slavery in this country have never been healed, the wounds inflicted on Black citizens who have been systematically treated like second-class citizens, as if their lives didn't really matter (certainly less important than the lives of the majority) - these are wounds that have been festering beneath the surface over these many generations. These are the wounds that were opened up yesterday and that's what all the rage is really all about.

Martin Luther King Jr. was arguably one the greatest apostles of non-violence the world has ever seen. His civil rights' marches and rallies for human dignity were bold and brave, yet always peaceful. And, while he never condoned violence, even Dr. King understood why people might riot and rage on the streets:

It is not enough for me to condemn riots. The intolerable conditions that exist in our society cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. 

A riot is the language of the unheard.

It seems to me that the law may have been accurately applied in a court room yesterday, but justice has certainly not been served. Justice will be served when the voices of the unheard are listened to by those who have a voice in this culture. Justice will only be served when people of goodwill are willing to sit together at a table of dialogue looking deeply into the healing of the old wounds. 

Until that time, my guess is that we can expect riots on our streets.

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