Quick Link: Lay Down Your Arms
I've a picture in my mind: two young white men held close to the ground by police in the act of arrest.
They were standing in protest, disrupting traffic on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, declaring Black Lives Matter. Too many boys had been shot, black men killed during "routine" traffic stops. And a growing chorus of religious, political and community advocates had had enough. Keeping the peace would not do. Guarding the peace did not work.
So they disturbed it.
My cousin was one of those young, white men, and his life was never in danger. He knew if he was arrested, he'd come home alive. And perhaps that was the point: standing between the police, the city, and kids he knew and loved in his westside neighbourhood. He'd spend a cold couple of hours in a holding cell, to spare the chance they'd never make it out of one.
Making room for a new type of peace, by disrupting the old one.
As a lifelong people-pleaser, keeping the peace was the price to pay for a conflict-free existence. Perhaps it was my parents’ early divorce or that pleasant Midwestern spirit, but I learned to play nice early on. Seeing things from both sides came easily. And though I often felt torn between two sides and two worlds on any number of issues – and still do! – I couldn’t help but feel that same bit of pride in being able to maintain a somewhat peaceful lifestyle despite difficult circumstances.
But… one time I drew my weapon instead of playing nice. A group of young boys were traumatizing my little sister, assaulting her with cruel words as we played in the park by our community swimming pool. It was summer, so kids like us often went unchecked for hours in our safe neighborhood patrolled by cops who knew me by name. It’s possible I told my sister to ignore it. I could’ve told her to run along, or changed the subject, or maybe I even tried to broker a peace treaty between these messers and my sister.
But I didn’t. Diplomacy with an eight-year-old would get me nowhere.
Instead, I picked out the ring leader, gave him a swift kick in a sensitive spot, threw some of my own indelicate words their way, and ran hand-in-hand with my sister back home to safety.
Immediately a painful anxiety filled my chest and I couldn’t figure out if what I’d done was right or wrong. I knew a knock would come on our door at any moment from an angry parent, and indeed it did, but I was filled with such righteous indignation that an apology would not do.
I did not keep the peace. I’m not even sure I made peace. But what I did do was confirm my status as mighty defender in the eyes of my sister. She could count on me. If I couldn’t keep the peace for her, I would broker it in the only ways I knew how.