Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Returning Violence for Violence

"Meditation Garden"
- The Desert Retreat House -

A very striking picture was featured on the front page of our local paper yesterday - a young African American man stood in front of a burnt-out CVS pharmacy that had been destroyed during the rioting on the streets of the City of Baltimore holding a sign that read:  Can you feel the pain yet?

The placard was obviously intended to make a statement about the purpose of the violence and devastation that racked the city of Baltimore - a response to the death of Freddie Gray. 

Over the past days, many people in the African American community had expressed their frustration and anger over Mr. Gray's brutal death at the hands of White police officers  - the street riots had  been organized to protest the bitter way in which police have violated Black people in that city and in cities  all across America. 

And so the streets of Baltimore were filled with angry young African Americans who could no longer contain their rage and frustration - it spilled out onto the streets, taking the form of looting, arson, attacks on police and the destruction of property. 

Somehow these blatant acts of violence were supposed to punish the city that had supposedly condoned the injustice against the African-American community- that's why that young man held the sign: Can you feel the pain yet?

And yet, as I saw that young man holding the sign as his neighborhood stood in tatters behind him,  I wondered who it was that would feel the pain he was hoping to inflict on his city? It certainly would not be the police or the politicians or majority culture that would feel the pain. Most of them don't even live close to that neighborhood.

No, the people who would feel the pain most were that young man holding the sign along with his family and his friends and neighbors. They would no longer be able to shop at their new CVS to fill their prescriptions -lots of new buildings and apartments heralding the rebirth of that neighborhood marked for urban renewal were now reduced to piles of rubble and ash.  Who indeed was feeling the pain? 

I can totally understand the frustration of that man holding that sign. I can empathize with pent-up rage over grave injustice, and I am very sympathetic to those people who feel they have been backed into a corner and now need to do something about it.  But, that man standing on the street with the sign was a perfect example of just how foolish violence and rage are as responses to a world of injustice.  

The Buddha taught:

Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal
with the intent of throwing it at someone else.
You are the one who gets burned.

That young man holding onto the placard asking if his city felt the pain yet was such a perfect icon of the Buddha's  teaching. That poor guy was holding onto a hot coal hoping to throw it at someone and he was the one getting burnt. 

Back many years ago when Dr. King preached his gospel of non-violent protest, he told his followers:

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

I suppose these words sound a bit Utopian and unrealistic to the ears of those who may feel they are being violated and oppressed and yet, as I see it,  these sentiments are about the most practical advice anyone might ever hear as they press their case in the cause of justice. 

In the end, only love can drive out hate. 

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