Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I speak what I am about to say from experience, knowing and accepting that some will differ: In the aftermath of a hate crime or other act of violence that may incite an individual or community to retaliatory violence ~ it is imperative to immediately include all “sides” in the process of seeking justice and healing.
As President Obama said at his press conference in the aftermath of the recent killing of police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, it is important to involve, “People of good will who pledge to work together for the common good ~ that is what we need right now.”
As I mentioned, I speak from experience: Immediately after the 2008 hate crime murder of a person of color, Marcelo Lucero, by a group of seven teenagers from the local high that made national news for weeks~ and even before the funeral that was held at my church, and over which I presided ~ I contacted the families of the perpetrators and invited them to be a part of the community in our anger, grieving and healing process. I did so knowing that that process I invited them to join would undoubtedly send their children to prison. As I had anticipated, their attorneys did not allow them to respond. But I made the sincere gesture anyway. Eventually, after the trials that sent the teenagers to prison (one of them for 25 years), a few of the families responded and a productive, though not always painless or calm, healing process ensued. I did this with the conviction that half of a community cannot heal.
Immediately after the hate crime murder that ripped into the flesh, bones and soul of our community ~ I also reached-out to the police department, (which the Department of Justice later investigated and issued over 100 citations of needed change) ~ and told them that I did not consider the police to be the enemy. Hate was the enemy. I communicated the same conviction and sentiment to the executive levels of our county government.
Not surprisingly, not everyone was in agreement with me. Many persons, especially activists and advocates from the immigrant community, had seen many unreported hate crimes caused in part by the inflammatory rhetoric of elected officials. They had seen the repeated injustice that was tolerated and/or perpetrated by the schools, police, and elected and appointed government officials who were sworn to protect and serve all persons equally.
Shortly after the murder, our church planned an event where alleged victims of hate crimes were invited to come to the church and tell their story (many felt unsafe going to the police), with the assurance that they would not be not be arrested, deported or harassed. Many people involved with planning the event were seething with rage at the police and argued strongly with me against allowing the presence of the police in the church during the telling of alleged hate crimes. Anger, resentment, hate and fear were, as the saying goes, “just beneath the surface” waiting to explode. And explode it did. The potential on the streets for violence initiated by both “sides” of the hate debate was huge.
In the midst of this, I reached out, through a mutual friend, to Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He had been the convener of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa. I asked his opinion on my efforts to include the families of the perpetrators, the police, and government officials ~ who many believed were partly responsible for the escalating climate of racism and violence in our community ~ as part of the justice and healing process. Archbishop Tutu wrote me a letter stating that he was praying for the murder victim and his family; for me and my church; for the community at large; and he was praying for those responsible for the murder, as well as for their families. Everyone deserves a seat at the table of justice.
This is not a happy ending story of an angel floating like a feature down from heaven to initiate a group-hug between hate crime victims and hate crime perpetrators. This is, rather, a story about a community brigade passing buckets of water to put out a fire of violence and hate that exploded into flames over seven years ago that sometimes appears to have been extinguished, at least until periodic smoke and embers arise.
My conviction ~ based on an experience of blood, death, hate and hope ~ is that, in immediate and intentional attempts at healing ~ it is possible for a community to go where fear and hate have no dominion over love and peace.
Our healing began with the realization that the worst level of violence, hate and terror is when you allow it to infiltrate your mind and soul and twist you into a version of what you deplore in others. The healing in our imperfect community is based on an experience that has proved, at least to us, that it is possible for a wounded people to seek common ground and to emanate a peace that surpasses all human understanding. All this is made easier when ~ right now ~ we drop the rhetoric that engulfs, inflames and burns us and begin to pass the buckets of water one person unto the other. The price of not doing so is very high. Our cities and our souls appear to be burning. May justice and peace flow down like water.
Dwight Lee Wolter is an author of several books and pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York. He blogs at dwightleewolter.com