The issue of police and African-Americans

Can we listen deeply to each other?

To the reader: Robert and I thought you might enjoy reading an occasional piece by one of us in which we offer a Course perspective on an issue we’ve been thinking about. Here is the first of these pieces.

Like many people in the US, I have been following the ongoing controversy regarding the use of force by police against African-Americans-the latest chapter of which has been the protests in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray, and the charging of the officers involved. Here, I don’t want to weigh in with my opinion on the general issue. Rather, I want to comment on our apparent inability to really listen to one another when we talk about this and other issues.

One thing that leaps out at me as I follow this issue (and so many others) is just how polarized opinions are. Now, no doubt there are many people who are not at the extremes I’m about to describe, but instead are somewhere in between. That being said, though, there is a lot of polarization, if my perusal of the Internet and conversations with friends and relatives are any indication.

On one extreme are those who proclaim that innocent African-Americans “walking while black” are routinely harassed, brutalized, and killed by police. This is obvious evidence of institutional racism, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a vile racist, or at best someone with his head in the sand. On the other extreme are those who proclaim that the police are just doing their jobs, those they go after are dangerous criminals, and they use force simply for self-defense and to protect the public. There is little or no institutional racism, and anyone who thinks otherwise is excusing criminal activity by playing the “race card.” Depending on which extreme a person gravitates toward, the protests we’ve seen are either valiant calls for justice that must be heeded or lawless riots that must be stopped.

Again, these extremes are caricatures to a certain extent. There’s a lot of middle ground. But the extremes and the anger that comes with them are there, and what keeps pressing on my mind as I follow this issue and so many others that confront us is how unwilling people are to really listen to one another. So many of us just seem to preach to the converted and condemn the unconverted. Where is the dialogue? I want to say to those who claim the police are just doing their job and there’s no institutional racism, “Can you talk to an African-American and really listen to his or her experience of encounters with police?” I want to say to those who claim that people who defend the police are vile racists, “Can you talk to one of these people and really listen to his or her concerns about crime and desire for the protection that police can provide?”

A Course in Miracles claims that if we listen to each other in a deep way, we will hear the truth in each other’s words (T-9.II.4-5). This doesn’t mean that everything we say on the surface will be true; no doubt all of us are “speaking foolishly” (T-9.III.2:7) much of the time. What it means is that whatever is in our surface words, if we listen carefully and lovingly to each other we will hear a deeper message, one that affirms our true nature, our basic goodness, our love for each other, our connection as Sons of God. This will illuminate even our surface words with a truth that we didn’t see there before.

If we could only get in touch with this deeper truth in each other, if we could listen to each other in genuine love, would not solutions to this difficult issue and others like it naturally arise? Indeed, the Course calls us to listen deeply to our brothers because “the answer to all prayers lies in them” (T-9.II.7:6). The truth is there if we have ears to hear, “but are you listening to it?” (T-9.II.5:7). I pray that we may come together as brothers and sisters to bring about harmony between police and African-Americans and everyone touched by this issue. I pray that we may listen to each other with open minds and loving hearts, and realize that what unites us is much greater than what divides us.

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
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