What exactly does it mean?

Black lives matter. That phrase has been bothering me for some time. I try very hard not to see a person’s color or gender or race or sexuality. I can’t imagine what some people would do if I stood in a pack of protesters holding up a sign that said White Lives Matter! It’s not about us versus them. It’s about all of us. It’s about being treated with respect and being respectful of others. ALL LIVES MATTER!

One day last week I’d had my fill. I had heard on the news that high school students in Minneapolis walked out of classes in protest/support of what was happening in Baltimore. To me, those kids were just looking for an excuse to leave school on a rare beautiful Minnesota spring day. I expressed my frustration on Facebook and quickly a friend pushed back. She politely suggested that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Sometimes I don’t, and I have no problem with someone helping me to understand. My friend quoted some statistics from a Washington Post article that certainly helped me to understand the depth of frustration some people are feeling in Baltimore. But it didn’t change my feelings at all.

I believe most of the Baltimore protesters are people feeling hopeless about their lives for many reasons and the Post article backs that up. But what I cannot understand, and I’m reading/hearing similar thoughts from many others across our country, is why destroy the very town you live in just because you feel hopeless? Why resort to violence at all?

Today I saw my friend shared someone else’s post on Facebook, suggesting that some of us are saying, “Black lives matter, but….”

To my way of thinking, those protesters broke laws and should be disciplined accordingly. I don’t care one bit about the color of skin those protesters have. Anyone who sets fire to a building is an arsonist, and that is against the law. Anyone who steals from a store is a shoplifter, and that is against the law. And, for the record, I believe every police officer is held to a higher standard and must obey the laws too. No one is above the law. No one.

My friend wanted to argue that residents of Baltimore have it bad. I won’t argue against that fact. But what frustrates and irritates me is that so many of the protesters think the rest of us have it easy and that we should be more compassionate and understanding of their emotions, wants, needs. I’m sorry, but I can’t justify rioting, looting, setting fire to buildings for any reason. And I just have to ask, did they really believe doing those things was going to make their lives better?

For the record, I don’t have it easy. I haven’t for many years. But because I have a job, have a house, have a car, people assume I have an easy life. I worked very hard for the things I have and I know that a major illness or another job loss would take away all that I have. Many days I fight off despair, hopelessness, depression. I am not alone. Those protesters are not alone. I don’t know a single person in my life circles who has it easy. We are all struggling. And so, I believe we ALL matter.

The really sad part about what’s happening in Baltimore now is that it reminds many of us of what happened in Detroit in 1967. Research history (or read this article in today’s StarTribune ). The 1967 Detroit riots incited reactions across the country, just like the protesting in Ferguson and now Baltimore. In the Detroit riots, many people died, thousands were arrested, and more than 2,000 buildings were burned to the ground. It took years for the area to recover, and some people believe Detroit still hasn’t recovered. I’m wondering about Baltimore now. How long will tourists stay away? How long will businesses planning conventions go to other cities? Given all the bad statistics in the Post article, I have to wonder if Baltimore will ever recover. Is it really true that we haven’t learned anything in nearly 50 years? Or, even worse, did we, as a people, think we knew more than we really do? Did we think we had learned and took some action but now it turns out it’s not enough action, and we’re right back at square one?

I don’t have the answers. But I do know the answer isn’t in protesting or robbing or burning down a store. Instead we need to talk to our elected leaders and candidates running for office. We need to use words, not violence, to let people know we are hurting and we need change. And then we need to work together to make that change. We cannot sit back on our laurels and expect change to miraculously happen. It’s going to be hard work. And it’s going to be filled with frustration and despair. But it’s work that must be done. If we keep dividing ourselves, us versus them, black versus white, we’re only going to perpetuate violence and despair and powerlessness. We’ll just keep reliving 1967 again and again until we destroy our very selves.