I’ve worn a lot of different hats in my life. As I contemplate the events in our country this morning so many thoughts are running through my head based on each of my life’s experiences. I think what I want to do is explain my thoughts through the various lenses of life I look through. I’ll save my Rev. Tom hat for the end.
I had always wanted to be a newspaper man – I remember saying I’d be a newspaper reporter as early as 5 years old. Well, I did it. I was a newspaper reporter and editor over the span of about eight years during my late teens and mid/late-20s. From this perspective I see the current protests and riots as a surge coming to light that has been just under the surface in our communities for decades.
One of the great parts of my newspaper career was doing ride alongs with the police. In small town newspaper work the media and police are not adversaries. In fact, I was always friends with the cops – that’s how you got the best stories! I have spent dozens of hours riding with cops on calls ranging from simple traffic stops to drug busts. Here’s what I learned from this:
- Most cops are great people who truly want to do a good job protecting their communities.
- The job changes you. The evil they see – murder, rape, child abuse, sexual abuse, et al – hardens them. It is difficult for some cops to maintain a balance of humanity in the job after seeing the worst of the worst day in and day out. I don’t think the general public really understands the level of evil the combat.
- Police suffer from the highest divorce rates, as well as significant degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder, self-medicating with alcohol, and anger issues due to the stress of their jobs.
- Some cops become “hammers” due to this and when you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail.
- Police work is really an “Us vs. Them” mentality which plays into the psychology of “The Other” – a condition in which we always need an adversary to blame, attack, and fight.
- And, of course, in every group there are bad apples including in police ranks. These bad apples misuse and abuse their authority and power which creates mistrust, division, anger, and adversaries.
People of color have a completely different view of police than the white population. Whether it’s due to social-economic issues, culture, experience, social injustice, or some other trigger the police are generally mistrusted in people of color communities and trusted in white communities.
From my own experience, I can tell you that while my dad hated the police because he kept getting arrested by them for his crimes, I never have any problem with them. They were always polite to me and seemed to care about my well being as they hauled my dad to jail. And they were just doing their job. Is that because I’m white and if I were black I’d have a different perspective? Perhaps – I was always taught in school to respect authority, including the police. If I had been a black kid and the police had beaten, fire hosed, and had dogs attack my parents and grandparents while they fought for civil rights I probably would have a very different perspective.
So, as a newspaper man I completely get why people are protesting. There is a lot of historical anger out there – and unfortunately rightly so. What about the rioting? Well, I think that is more of a group think idea than anything. Have you ever noticed that riots always start out as peaceful protests? Then the group gets agitated as they feel as if they are not being heard and become more aggressive. As they become more aggressive the cops become more aggressive. Then it’s like gas and matches – an explosion is coming.
That’s not to say there aren’t always agitators who try to take advantage of these situations. You can always find the knuckleheads looking for a fight. As a reporter you look for those people and kind of follow them with your camera because they’re about to make news!
I guess what I’m saying is I get it. I’ve seen bad cops. I’ve been a reporter who has been attacked by a cop for doing his job, having my camera and notes taken from me by a crazed deputy upset I photographing an arrest. I’ve heard the stories of injustices in the African American community. You pretty much see it all in the news business. The anger is real and it is justified.
I learned a ton about public opinion, demographics, sub-groups, and generally how voters decide whom they will support in elections. This insight coupled with my years in the news business working in communities really helped me get a sense of how divided people are on issues.
One of the tools we use is polling. Now, polling in my mind is a very inexact science but useful for what it is. Basically, polling is a snapshot in time of the opinions of people who decide to answer the poll. Only about one out of every 10 people actually answer the poll so from the very beginning you’re skewing the results. Not everyone answers polling questions honestly! That’s another problem. Some demographic groups are not represented proportionately as they should be. For example, if I’m polling in my area there should be a larger percentage of Hispanic voters polled but we usually don’t get the requisite percentage. But for all the problems with polling, you can see trends based on the questions you ask. There is a lot of demographic information we get from polling, including:
- Location (neighborhood, community, precinct, etc.)
- Voter History (have they voted in the past several elections?)
- Party Affiliation
- Political Philosophy (conservative, moderate, liberal)
What I’ve learned over the years after doing dozens of polls is people are divided by party, race, gender, income, and location. And these divides are not minor – people from different demographics often times are completely politically polarized! But as you drill down you realize that they are not polarized by general concepts but by the details on how those concepts should be implemented. For example, everyone pretty much would agree that people should have health care. But when you start asking about the details, such as universal health care, taxes, medical savings account, employer-based health care, and all the rest, people start to separate into their groups and become vehemently opposed to one another.
The same hold true when it comes to race relations. Everybody in America would agree that people of color should be treated exactly the same as white people. People would agree that nobody should be discriminated against based on race. If you polled this you would find 98 percent agreed with these statements with about two percent being nut jobs. But then you start asking specifics as to how you go about this. That’s when the wheels will fall off. Ideas such as affirmative action, social justice, protesting (taking a knee during the National Anthem), and Black Lives Matter divide people sharply.
George Floyd is just the latest victim in a long line of victims of police brutality. From my political consulting viewpoint you cannot forget the African-American community’s shared experience of having a family lineage of slavery. Just like our families tell us about their lineage so do African American families. While I may not feel very connected to my Russian or German roots, African Americans cannot help but be connected to theirs based on the color of their skin and how they still are treated in our communities today.
Politically speaking, it makes complete sense they vote as a block and they see their brothers and sisters as part of a larger community that whites simply don’t have.
So, when a white person suffers police brutality – and they do, I’ve seen it – the rest of the white community pretty much shrugs and says the guy probably deserved it. But when an African American suffers at the hands of the police the African American community as a whole suffers.
What should their response be given this demographic reality?
Obviously, protests. Violence? We’ve learned through the years that violence for political change doesn’t often work. Before 9/11 terrorism was the concept of employing violence to make political change. While there are some examples of it working (think Israel independence from Britain), usually terrorism doesn’t accomplish the goal.
Yet, if one doesn’t feel as if their voice is being heard or their anger resulting in change what choices does one have to actually make change? The ballot box? Not likely – incumbents win 90 percent of the time. You really don’t make a difference at the ballot box – sorry to burst your bubble.
Here’s what I know from both my newspaper and political consulting gigs: change happens in communities when leaders lead and hold those down the chain accountable to standards created by all the stakeholders involved. The president won’t change things nor will the governor. It’s the chief of police and the school board chair, and the newspaper editor, and the city administrator, and the mayor, and the chamber of commerce, and the neighborhood associations. Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill had it right when he said, “All politics are local.” In this case, change must happened at the grassroots level and work their way up. That’s how Rev. King did it and that’s what we need to get back to instead of thinking government is going to solve the problem – it never has, and it never will.
As you can probably tell from my jobs as a newspaper reporter and political consultant, I like to know what makes people tick! My skills in this area increased exponentially when I worked as an intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency. One of the courses I took in my master’s degree program was Intelligence Profiling. The course focused on how to learn everything you could about a target and apply that information in order to determine not only why they made decisions they made but how you could use predictive analysis to determine what decisions they would make in the future. VERY cool course and I’ve used this process over and over again in my various professions since my DC days.
One of the first things you learn in the intelligence business is not to “mirror image” people or events. This means that you have to be sure you’re not assuming people will act like you would act because you’re so logical or that they will see things like you do because you’re so right. People are not the same; we have different life experiences, different cultures, different thought process, different biases and more. Everyone is an individual and if you want to understand how they see an event and how they will react to that event you must get to know the individual.
Right now, pretty much every major city in America is having protests about George Floyd. But that does not mean that every African American is protesting in the same way. Here’s the variety of protesting I’ve seen:
- Peaceful marches
- Violence against police, media, and businesses
- YouTube commentary
- Public statements by celebrities and leaders
- Social Media commentary
- Letters to the Editor
- Op-Ed articles in newspapers
- And yes, blogs!
While I think, as I’ve said, the African American community is having a shared experience, how they are expressing their experience is quite different so you can’t broad brush the event. What this means is if you are white and want to make a difference in some way you have to meet each person where they are in your communities. Some people are explosively angry! You have to hear that anger and the reasons behind it and not just react to it. Some people are deeply hurt and grieved so you must show compassion and empathy. Some people want change and want it NOW. Great, work with them on that change!
The fun part about the three professions I have mentioned thus far is they all are about relationships. Building relationships, working through relationships, and partnering with a very diverse group of people to accomplish shared goals. To do so you have to understand what makes people tick – their history, their culture, their experiences, their dreams, their fears, their motivations, their vulnerabilities, their emotions, their logic and thinking process, and everything that make them them. You have to respect those difference and realize those differences make the team stronger!
I feel as if the white community doesn’t understand the black community not just due to cultural differences but because the white community is not connected like the black community. We (white guys) mirror image the black community – think they think like us – and cannot understand why everyone in the black community is having an emotional response to George Floyd, a man most didn’t even know. If George Floyd were a white guy there would be no outcry by the white community. Some would say that the white community is ignorant. I wouldn’t go that route. I think the white community is just culturally different.
Back in the early 19th century the white community was very much like the black community. In big cities such as New York and Chicago everyone lived in “neighborhoods.” There was the Italian neighborhood, and the Polish neighborhood, and the Jewish neighborhood, and the German neighborhood. All the immigrants lived in the same part of town due to language and cultural connections. All these groups had shared experiences within their groups and stuck together. But America is a giant melting pot that mixes people and as nationalities inter-married nationality designations went by the wayside.
Not so for the African American community which cannot escape its national origin which is imprinted on its skin! This is why whites don’t feel connected to one another in any significant way while the black community is very connected to one another in a way whites simply can’t fathom in this day and age.
As an intel guy, my job was to identify these types of things and use them for intelligence gathering purposes. But you don’t need to be a spook to understand how these skills can apply in our communities. Don’t mirror image people or groups of people. One size doesn’t fit all. Take each person as an individual. Understand group dynamics and shared experiences and how they play out. Do some of these things and you may find yourself understanding the outcry happening in our nation right now.
Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Okay, now I’ll put on my Rev. Tom hat.
A large part of my ministry is pastoral counseling. I have spent a great deal of time learning about mental and emotional health issues and how to treat them using a variety of counseling methods. So, let me outline how I see my world as a pastor.
You have to start with the fact that the world is fallen – when sin entered the world EVERTHING changed. Men and women who were as innocent as children gained the knowledge of good and evil and were now cursed with a sin nature – the ability to choose to do evil instead of good. Nature fell as well – instead of a perfect planet we get natural disasters, disease, famines, and pestilence. Satan became the prince of this world and he has spent every moment since the fall trying to get man to rebel against God by choosing to do evil instead of good.
Jesus showed us what God expects:
- Love God with all your heart, soul and strength
- Love your neighbor as yourself
- Love each other as Jesus loves you
- Don’t judge
- Turn the other cheek
- Love your enemy
- Pray for those who persecute you
- Forgive as you’ve been forgiven
- Bear with one another
- Be humble
- Serve others
- Die to yourselves
- Carry your cross
- Be peaceful
- Keep your eyes on heavenly things
Now, just for a second, imagine if the police in the George Floyd situation lived by these ethics. What do you think the outcome would have been?
Here is what happens in our world instead. Satan inflames us to reject Jesus’ teaching and commands and instead tempts us to act in these ways:
- Do unto others before they do it unto you
- Only the strong survive
- Trust no one
- It’s us vs them
- Hate your enemy
- Seek revenge
- Victory through superior firepower
- Look out for number one
- The ends justify the means
- All people are equal, but some people are more equal than others
- People that are different from you are a threat
What does this have to do with pastoral counseling? Well, from a spiritual perspective every single one of us has a mental health condition!! We all are fallen and see our world through a broken prism of sin.
In the world of counseling we use a term called “triggers.” A trigger is an input that causes – or triggers – an emotional response that would be considered abnormal within the context of the input. For example, a combat veteran may have an extreme startle reflex during the 4th of July when a firecracker goes off and you’ll find him seeking “cover” from incoming enemy fire. The firecracker explosion triggered an emotional response based on the veteran’s experience in combat.
That’s an extreme example, but triggers are real and can come from any of the five senses, as well as from like experiences.
I think when people in the African American community saw George Floyd on the ground with a cop’s knee on his neck and heard him saying he couldn’t breathe it reminded them of Eric Garner’s “I can’t breathe” situation in New York and triggered all the anger that had been building up regarding Black Lives Matter, including the recent Ahmaud Abrey killing in Georgia.
From a counseling perspective, nothing happens in a vacuum. Most actions are actually symptoms of a larger problem buried deep in the psyche of people. For the black community, racism is burned into their psyche historically and from personal experiences – it is painful, traumatic, and unresolved. Thus, it is completely reasonable that seeing a black man on television being abused by a cop would trigger these raw emotions.
But here is exactly where I would hope the faith community would step in!
We have a responsibility and duty to help people understand that Satan wants people to respond in kind and then escalate the hate and violence as a means to having their voice heard. That is not God’s way and we must step into the breach and teach what God would have us do!!
As men and women of God here is what God would call us to:
- Call out what happened as wrong and a violation against man and God! The officers involved transgressed against George Floyd, his family and the community and they sinned against God. God’s justice will be perfect.
- Scripture tells us that the king has sword for a reason – support the government’s application of justice as well. The federal government is investigating; the state government is investigating; the local government is investigating. Justice will be done.
- Pray for the officers involved. Even if they are evil men nobody is beyond redemption. You were evil once, too, and God graciously took you back. We need to pray that these men meet Jesus.
- Forgive them for their actions. I’m not saying let them off the hook – God’s justice is coming for them – but we must forgive them because unforgiveness is a cancer that rots the bones and is a tactic of Satan to make you do his will not God’s.
- Get involved – bring the voice of Christ to city hall, the legislature, and the halls of Congress. Be part of the solution by starting grassroots discussions with local community leaders to create systems by which stakeholders can find common ground. Show the love of Christ through your actions.
- If you are a pastor or church leader, reach out to the black churches in your community and see if there is anything you can do to help them during this traumatic time.
- Understand the reasons behind the pain and have compassion and empathy but share that peace and love is what conquers darkness not violence.
- Stand against abuse of authority and power no matter where you see it. We must call out evil whenever we see it!
We are at a difficult junction in our nation. We are more divided than we have been since the ’60s. While it is vogue to play the blame game understand as Christians the blame goes one place – ourselves! Man continues to choose to do evil and rebel against God instead of following His ways. I wish I could tell you that some great revival is coming as some of the self-appointed “prophets” are doing, but that is not what the Bible says. The Bible tells us things are going to get worse. More and more will reject God, embrace the world and Satan’s ways, and things will continue to deteriorate. As a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ it is my job to talk about Jesus with anyone who will listen; show Jesus to anyone who is watching; and share Jesus tangibly with anyone in need. Right now the African American community needs all of this so they know that they are not alone and that Jesus is with them.