How Long?

David asked “how long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” — Psalm 13.2


Illustration of silhouettes of a group of Black people

David asked “how long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?”

Psalm 13.2

How long indeed.

For Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor, Mr. Aubrey, the triumph is eternal.

For the rest of us? That’s the wrenching question.

I enter your day here because I know and see and feel how much pain there is. Some have told me about weeping at home, hiding it from their children. About rage. Exhaustion. Compartmentalization. Futility. And that’s just what I’m hearing; I can only imagine the range of feelings coursing through this community, given who we are and the issues we care about.

I’m so sorry this keeps happening. I wish I could say I was at all surprised. I’m not. But I am relentlessly regretful.

Forty years ago, in Miami where I was born and raised, the police who murdered Arthur McDuffie, a Black insurance agent riding his motorcycle, were acquitted. Some in Liberty City exacted revenge, and for four days straight it was awful. Many died. I was 17, a high school senior, and it was bracing and formative. There is no question it solidified for me where I would place myself on these issues going forward, my first professional job in the Miami public defender’s office was directly related.

And here we all are still, wandering in the same desert. Mr. Aubrey. Ms. Taylor. Mr. Floyd. Ms. Bland. Mr. Castille. Mr. Martin. Young, so young, Mr. Rice. So many more names.

America aggressively objectifies and commodifies and brutalizes and differently values Black and Brown humans, and the bodies inhabited. That is not just a factual statement, it is existential. It is a keystone of our founding, our convention, and our practice. While it has morphed over the years, it is literally Constitutional. The conflation of racism, sexism, and capitalism has been mastered and is thorough.

And it is not just those on the Right and their brazenness; with the gall to castigate Mr. Kaepernick’s protest as the problem, rather than the murderous ways of some police which he is protesting.

The Left is mindlessly complicit and responsible too. Our condescension, our disingenuous empathy, our rhetoric over action; all of that complements and calcifies the original sin.

It is not all horrible.

There’s been real change. For 350 of our years, there was literally no recourse. Now we have a Minneapolis mayor who goes right to calling it what it is and calling for prosecution for murder. And a police chief of color who is not dissembling. And arrests, in both Georgia and Minnesota. And convictions in Fort Worth.

And there are Marilyn Mosbys and Steve Reeds and Leticia Jameses and Lina Hidalgos increasingly in charge. We need much more of this.

Justice will be served in Minneapolis. Although with 18 prior complaints in the perpetrating officer’s record, where has Justice been this whole time?

I cannot satisfactorily help you with your grief and rage. It’s not my position, but more importantly and frankly who can?

Each of us needs to do what we must to keep ourselves centered. To either process or avoid the perennial rage that Baldwin, our most honest narrator, described.

Prayer. Sublimation. Work. Time-out. Donations. Organic gathering with people who get you, absent the gaze or neediness or judgment of the other. Exercise. Music. Screaming. Binge-watching. Avoidance.

You know where I am on this:

First, the whole culture profits off the degradation and merchandising of the person of color and of women. Sports. Prisons. Schools. Retail Establishments. Adult Entertainment. It is everywhere. Call it out, work to reverse it.

Second, much of organized policing in the United States has been an explicitly racist institution. It is the front line of controlling and dehumanizing the Black and Brown American. That’s not an after-thought or unintended consequence, it’s by design. While there are huge pockets of improvement throughout the country — and so many law enforcement officers do the most amazing work with integrity and under gruesome circumstances — the original template is still dominant. And the consequences everywhere.

A way to change this is to hugely strengthen the African American, Latinx, Asian American, Native American, women, and LGBT police presence. To be fair and clear, there are minority cops who are awful. We are all human, and frail, and works in progress. But I strongly believe that one, not the only, but one, path to better policing is police and police leadership that comes from and reflects the communities they serve. And good pay. And training.

The way to improve America, and its larger success with relentless willingness to dehumanize many of us, is more complicated.

But that’s why I run this firm. To have a safer place to do that very work. Let’s not pretend the work isn’t hard, it is. And I see and feel and know real pain, too frequently, and again now.

For those of you who run organizations and groups, consider providing your team a facilitated process to help those who might benefit from the support to stay true and centered, however you define that. We cannot be who we are and not feel all kinds of ways about what’s going on. We cannot do this work well without being honest about that.

We are a violent nation, and too many of our countrymen are angry and misguided. I don’t do the work we do in spite of this fact, I do it because of this fact.

Dr. King, more of a public optimist than I, told us from the steps of the capitol in Montgomery that the answer to David’s question “how long?” was “not long.”

That can’t be true without our continued fight and work.