Social psychologists note three traits among those most driven by the forces of revenge: (1) a preference for social dominance and hierarchies, (2) an acceptance of social norms and the importance of authority and (3) a need for the world to be predictable and orderly. Every day, videos spread over social media of white people waving guns or weaponizing police against Black people due to breaches of their preferences for dominance and orderliness. We need look no further than our own mayor and police to see these behaviors.
Last week, Councilmember Kshama Sawant participated in a rally outside Mayor Jenny Durkan’s gated community. The next day, the mayor officially called on the City Council to remove Sawant, charging Sawant with using the power of her office for political retaliation! The mayor retaliates against Sawant by demanding that Sawant be fired for retaliation. When someone is oblivious to their own hypocrisy, it’s often because they think the rules don’t apply to them.
Turning to Durkan’s police: Thousands of us watched Omari Salisbury livestream the SPD sweep of CHOP and return to the East Precinct. We saw cops repeatedly harass Salisbury. They demanded he leave the area and threatened to arrest him. His office is next door to the precinct, he has been at the scene daily for a month, he displayed his press credentials and he gently explained that he was a journalist. The officers got more agitated. Salisbury kept filming, but backed far enough from the scene that it was hard to see what the police were doing. Salisbury soon tweeted about the police, citing an order by Durkan, disallowing him from broadcasting. The police eventually tweeted back, “We are not limiting [Converge Media’s/Salisbury’s] ability to broadcast. This was a misunderstanding…”.
SPD’s public relations department could see Salisbury’s footage showing what their officers did, but when given the choice to accept responsibility or lie … they chose to lie.
We call this “gaslighting,” which means harming someone and then telling them it never happened or that they misinterpreted it. The cops who illegally threatened a journalist face no consequences. Instead, SPD continues to play the victim while perpetrating violence, which they have been doing all month long during these protests.
CHOP and similar protests show us that things need not be this way. One pillar of spiritual traditions is mercy. Mercy is a monstrous doctrine when it is preached to the oppressed in order to secure their acceptance of injustice. Jesus preached mercy as an active alternative to the authoritarian, compulsory conformity and violent “orderliness” of empires. When mercy is tied to accountability, healing and transformation, it can be a force of liberation. I have seen this non-hierarchical way of being practiced more in protests in a month than I’ve seen in most churches in many years. May we call out and work fiercely to transform the hypocrisy without and within.
Read more of the July 8-14, 2020 issue.