“There’s something happening here.” – Buffalo Springfield
“Can you feel it?” – the Jacksons
They have not stopped.
That’s one of the most heartening things about the demonstrations against police brutality that began with the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August and renewed with a grand jury’s decision this month not to indict a New York police officer who choked Eric Garner to death. In a nation with the attention span of a toddler in the toy department, the focus on this issue has not wavered.
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And most people, remember, are marching in places not very hospitable to outdoor protest. It’s December, after all, and while it was a balmy 74 degrees in Miami as these words were written, it was 45 in Ferguson, where they protested in the rain recently, and 28 in New York, which has seen continuous demonstrations. The fact that these actions continue nationwide as the weather turns and have even spread across the ocean (there was a protest last month at the U.S. Embassy in London) is a sign this issue has staying power.
But what’s even more noteworthy is that this is not a “black” protest. To the contrary, images from these demonstrations show us that a rainbow coalition is offended by the message the injustice system sends in refusing to punish these killings, i.e., that it is somehow “OK” to kill unarmed African-American men and boys.
This past weekend, churches of many different denominations were holding “Black Lives Matter” services, calling on congregants to dress in black and pray in solidarity with those who seem to always end up on the short end of “justice.”
Take it as a reminder that people who are not black nevertheless have the ability to locate – and defend – the humanity of people who are. It is a reminder particularly apropos to a season where we often preach, but too seldom practice, peace on Earth and good will toward men and women. It is also a welcome rebuke of an era wherein certain media outlets and political figures discourage us from seeing ourselves in the faces of others.
Instead, they invite us to scorn those who love, worship, look or behave differently, or who have less material wealth. They tell us to victimize the vulnerable, as if those people did not want the things we all want, as if their fundamental humanity were somehow less than our own.
This rainbow coalition of protest seems a long-overdue shout of resistance from the rest of us. To watch people take to the streets day after day – some in foolish and self-destructive violence, yes, but many more in dignified and creative civil disobedience – is to entertain a question as tantalizing as it is unanswerable. Is this the birth of a movement?
One is mindful of the folly of attempting to read the future. Remember how quickly the Occupy movement went from boom to bust?
Yet one is also mindful of something Occupy demonstrated and these protests reiterate: There is a great pent-up energy among us, a yearning and demand from people fed up with the calumnies, evasions, expediences and pious hypocrisies that have too long been paraded as moral rectitude. But real moral rectitude would not turn a blind eye to Michael Brown or Eric Garner. Nor to the hungry, the demonized, the poor or the stranger at the gate yearning to breathe free.
This month makes 59 years since another group of Americans similarly fed up with false moral rectitude gathered at a church in Montgomery, Ala. There, a 26-year-old preacher named King detonated all that pent-up energy, distilled their stored-up pain, frustration and resentment into eight simple words: “There comes a time,” he said, “when people get tired.”
Is it too much to hope that time has come again?
Leonard Pitts Jr., a columnist for the Miami Herald, appears in Opinion on Mondays.