The New American War

The New American War July 8, 2016

dallas policeby Kenneth Vandergriff

Stanley Hauerwas wrote “war is America’s central liturgical act necessary to renew our sense that we are a nation unlike other nations.”  Unfortunately for Americans war has spilled into everyday society.  The most recent police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota have led to protests in the streets, and rightly so.  People of all races rising up in the name of peace.  And yet, violence still erupts.  On the night of July 7, 2016 police officers in Dallas, TX were gunned down in a violent attack that can only be labeled as terrorism.

What happens in the daily lives of too many African-Americans living in impoverished areas of both large and small cities is nothing short of daily warfare.  Survival at all costs becomes the daily function.  Much like the war zones of Syria, Iran, and Iraq where daily suicide bombings and terrorist attacks occur, life in the war zone of our inner cities is a struggle to understand how and why.  How in a country that touts equality (though certainly not equity) are African-Americans still the most impoverished race?  Why has violence seeped into the daily lives of so many?

I do not have the answers to these questions but I would for a moment like to make an observation. Prophet/Rapper Tupac Shakur famously quipped T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E (The Hate U Gave Little Infants F*cks Everybody).  It is precisely this hate that has turned violence to terror.  Terrorism is designed to strike fear into a group of people through acts of violence.  On the one hand, the tragic shootings of African-American men by White police officers could fit the definition of terrorism.  To be clear, I am NOT calling the police shootings terrorism.  I am, however, suggesting that these shootings have created terror in the lives of African-Americans.  On the other hand, the tragic and senseless shootings of multiple police officers in Dallas, TX during a peaceful protest against the tragic shootings of African-American men in Louisiana and Minnesota is terrorism.  I AM calling the shooting of these police officers terrorism.

To be sure this type of violence is not what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have advocated nor would he have stood for it.  To be sure this is not what Tupac was suggesting with T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. as if The Hate was literally to f*ck up everybody through extended violence.  Violence is a terrorist modus operandi.  Violence is all that terrorists know.  It is the way they live.  Hauerwas suggested that war was the central liturgical act of America and further that wars were fought so that those who died before did not die in vain.  We have heard this refrain in America’s remembrance of freedom, as if somehow by not fighting in Iraq those brave men and women who died in the previous wars would have died in vain.  The same is true in this new American war.  

We do not want Alton Sterling or Philando Castile to have died in vain, nor do we want the countless other young African-American men who have died tragically and senselessly at the hands of police to have died in vain.  The irony of this refrain, coupled with war as the central liturgical act of America, is that the war only ends when both sides agree that enough lives have been lost.  So when will enough be enough?

Kenneth Vandergriff is a graduate student at Campbell University Divinity School, a father of four, and a minister. He will pursue a PhD at Florida State University in the fall. 

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