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Freddie Gray, Dr. Seuss, and Aretha Franklin

Mary Sanchez of the KC Star gets to the heart of the matter of what’s going on in Baltimore and around the country right now:

The national conversation on police/community relations that began in earnest with Michael Brown’s death and wound through Eric Garner’s and so many others, may have found a more convincing victim in Gray for those who have failed to grasp this as the crux of the issue.

It’s respect. Strong police-community relations have always swiveled around respect. It’s a two-way exchange of officers approaching citizens with it and gaining the same in return. When that breaks down, as it has in so many African-American and Latino communities, the outrage that fueled the protests this week is sure to erupt.

As Maryland U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings so aptly put it Friday morning during televised interviews, “Did they see him as a human being?”

When those with power cannot see those without power as human beings, the result is inevitable.

Child sexual abuse at the hands of priests, and coverups by bishops. Prisoners abused at Abu Ghraib, and officially sanctioned torture at Gitmo and elsewhere. Financial bailouts for those who caused the near-collapse of the banking system, who advised their clients in invest one way while they bet against their clients with their own money, who engaged in systematic forclosure fraud with perjury and forged documents to hide their behavior. The Edmund Pettus Bridge.

When those without power decide they’ve had enough of being doormats, they act to reclaim their own power by demanding to be seen as human beings. Sometimes they act politely, other times less so, but always with an intent to provoke the powerful to revise their thinking. As Martin Luther King said to the white clergy of Birmingham in his letter from Birmingham’s jail, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

Birmingham. Stonewall. Kent State. Occupy. Ferguson. Baltimore.

I could cite political theorists, historians, and other distinguished scholars to belabor this point, but putting King’s words next to those of Sanchez above, I can’t help but think of two people who were much more dramatic in making their case.

Consider the story that took place on the far-away island of Sala-ma-sond, where a little direct non-violent action — a burp from the lowliest of the low — dramatized the issue of the indiscriminate use of authoritarian power to abuse the powerless such that it could not be ignored.

Consider the words of a woman standing up to her man, demanding what is rightfully hers. “All I’m askin’ is for a little respect.”

Preach it, sister Mary and brother Martin. Preach it, sister Aretha, and brother Seuss.

It’s Respect.


h/t to Nosha for the photo, and used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.