I’m not a pacifist. I believe that people have a right to self-defense. But I do believe that, in the United States, nonviolent tactics are the tactics we should use. Beyond that, I believe that those who want a world of justice, peace and higher love must be about transforming ourselves into people who are not-violent, physically, emotionally, spiritually. We must be like this in all ways as much as possible, as far as our interactions with one another and with all life on the planet. We will not transform this fundamentally unjust, oppressive and violent world if we, as change agents, are not fundamentally transformed and transforming as human beings.
Is this a contradiction with my chanting, “Death to the Klan,“ as I did two days ago as part of a demonstration in downtown Newark, NJ? The demonstration was called by the Peoples Organization for Progress in response to the murders on June 17th of nine African American people taking part in Bible study in an AME church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.
When I got the call late Thursday night about the demonstration the next afternoon, I was glad to get it and decided right then that I would go.
The event began with close to 100 of us, primarily African American but with maybe a dozen white people, forming a semi-circle as POP Chair Larry Hamm got the program going. First to speak after Larry were a Christian minister, a Muslim imam and a Jewish woman, an impromptu interfaith service to ground us in a larger view of what happened in Charleston as we all struggled to come to grips with the immense crime we were there to protest.
Speakers connected this horrible racist crime to the police murders of black people over the past year and over many, many years, to the institutionalized racism and skin color-based inequality that continue, no matter the skin color of the current resident of the White House.
As people spoke, I kept thinking: “This terrible crime happened because of a deep-seated culture of white supremacy and white racism in the USA, with racist organizations pushing their sick ideology and sickening the hearts and minds of too many white people. We must be about building a very different culture that affirms the humanity of all people, opposes racism, injustice and all forms of inequality, and takes visible action in support of these values.” I felt the embodiment of that culture, that loving and activist culture, as the event’s program unfolded.
At a certain point, Larry Hamm organized us into a march through the heart of downtown Newark and back to the point where we had first rallied, in front of a statue of Abraham Lincoln. As that march arrived back at that point, Larry led us in a chant I’ve never heard before at a POP march: “Death to the Klan.” Before this we had been chanting, “Stop racist violence, now!”, “No justice, no peace,” and similar chants.
I joined in the “Death to the Klan” chant. My immediate thought as I did so was to the effect that the chant was calling for an end to the KKK as an organization, and that was something I supported 100%. Though I’m all for free speech, I don’t support organized efforts to propagate acts of hate, violence or oppressive discrimination against people on the basis of skin color, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or any other God-given characteristic.
Beyond that, all of us, whatever our ethnic background, should openly support efforts to affirmatively address institutionalized racism and move our society toward genuine equality.
How sad that in the year 2015, 47 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in Memphis, such a vicious and terrible act could take place in this country. In response, white people, white people in particular, must reflect seriously on our responsibility to speak out against racism in all its forms, wherever we encounter it, as we interact with other white people. We can do nothing less.