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Thoughts on the Deaths in Baton Rouge, St. Paul & Dallas

John Heilman has been a resident of Montana for 11 years. He has dedicated his life to social justice.

John Heilman has been a resident of Montana for 11 years. He has dedicated his life to social justice.

Brothers and sisters, we are here to today to mourn two groups of men. One group consists of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, who were shot to death by police. The second group we mourn consists of five Dallas police officers, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamrippa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens, who were shot to death by a black man.

The first group is composed of black victims of police abuse of power. The second group consists of white victims of a black man seeking irrational revenge. The first, ordinary citizens, the second those whose profession it is to serve the community and to protect its citizens. How are we to honor such disparate groups now, in the same service, in the same room?

It would be easy to fall into the trap of choosing sides, as if we were choosing to support a political party or a sports team. But doing so would only continue the processes that led to the deaths of these men. We must resist the illusion that supporting “Black Lives Matter” means we become anarchists, resisting all the demands of the state. And in honoring the fallen police officers, we are not accepting the power of entrenched, institutionalized racism that marks our nation.

How can we build a monument that will honor all seven of these men? Such a monument would need to be built with power, for the status quo only changes when force is applied to it. But power easily becomes reckless and abusive. In fact our nation was founded on such abusive power, power that led to the near genocide of its indigenous people and the importation from Africa of human beings who were turned into draft animals.

Surely a monument to these men would require love in its construction. Inspired perhaps by the Christian scripture could we say, “Let’s all love each other, regardless of skin color.” No. This nation was founded on white supremacy and operates on white privilege. Invoking the name of love is a trite and sentimental act, and the history of our nation demonstrates its ineffectiveness.

So do we build our monument to these men on justice? What is justice? Treating all people identically, making no allowances by individual strengths and weaknesses, talents and needs? Does it mean cleaving to the law for our salvation? Is justice retribution meted out by the government of the powerful and privileged, filling prisons with the poor and powerless?

Yet the monument we build to these two groups of men, which is the solution to the racial issue which resulted in their deaths, must involve love, power, and justice.

We must love, which includes forgiveness. We must claim power, but not oppress in its name, and we must seek justice, for all people.

Love, power, justice – these three are related in a calculus, in a dance if you will, that holds the solution to the race-based issues which are bringing bloodshed into our communities.

Almost fifty years ago Martin Luther King told us how power, love and justice must interact to bring us peace. He said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Listen again to his words. “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

We must act now, all of us, to stop the bloodshed. Each of us needs to decide what our path will be. Take powerful, loving and just actions, with each element limiting and strengthening the others, as Brother Martin outlined. Then we will together build our monument to:

Alton Sterling

Philando Castile

Brent Thompson

Patrick Zamrippa

Michael Krol

Michael Smith

Lorne Ahrens

 

 

John Heilman on John Heilman - 
My involvement with social justice issues began in the early 1960's when I worked on voter registration, and then with Caesar Chavez's United Farm Workers. My forty year career in education, from classroom to central office, was devoted to the education of poor and minority children. I've been in picket lines and board rooms, and now here I am in the comparative peace and quiet of social media.