What would Gandhi say?
There’s not much question, really. The icon of civil disobedience disdained every form of violence. He most certainly would have condemned riotous demonstrations protesting any courtroom verdict, no matter how unpalatable. So would Martin Luther King.
It’s easy to understand why many St. Louis residents took to the streets over the acquittal of former police officer Jason Stockley in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Officer Stockley’s comments and conduct raised serious questions about the credibility of his own testimony. And civil protest is one of the foundational principles of a free society.
But on the other hand, the shooting followed the high-speed pursuit of a suspected heroin dealer, and video footage failed to substantiate the claim that Officer Stockley planted a weapon. In the end, Judge Timothy Wilson concluded that there was insufficient evidence for conviction.
So did Jason Stockley get away with murder? We may never know. But that’s not the point.
TO ERR IS HUMAN
We all know that our justice system is imperfect, as any system designed and implemented by human beings must be. Sometimes honest people make mistakes. Sometimes authority is corrupt. Sometimes the truth hides its face, and sometimes we have to accept that justice can be painfully blind.
It’s what we do next that matters most.
Some respond to frustration by venting their anger on whatever target crosses their path – in this case, by smashing the windows of 23 storefronts in my hometown, the St. Louis suburb of University City.
But from these senseless acts of misdirected destruction emerged an exquisite silver lining, an example of how human beings can discover within themselves true nobility in the face of injustice.
The morning after the carnage, volunteers appeared on the streets and began sweeping up the broken glass and boarding up the broken windows with plywood. But even at that, the kindness of strangers had only just begun.
Before long, local artists showed up to paint the plywood panels, transforming stark reminders of wanton violence into beautiful murals of friendship and neighborhood harmony.
FACING THE FUTURE
This week, the Jewish community stands between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, between the Day of Judgment and the Day of Atonement. On those awesome days, we gather together in prayer, one people with one heart, to recite the High Holiday prayers. And as the liturgy rises to a crescendo, it impels us to ponder the uncertain future that awaits us in the coming year:
Who will live and who will die; who by water and who by fire; who by the sword or wild beast, who by famine or thirst; who by storm or plague or violence. Who will rest and who will wander; who will have peace and who will suffer; who will be poor and who will have wealth; who will be cast down and who will be raised high.
We have no idea what the future holds. Ultimately, we have no control over where fortune will take us. What we do control, however, is how we respond to our own fortunes and the fortunes of our fellows.
When we see our neighbors in distress, will we drop everything and hurry to their aid? When we behold injustice, will we add to injustice by lashing out impulsively? Or will we stand shoulder to shoulder in a show of solidarity?
And when we witness senseless suffering, will we close our eyes and harbor vengeance in our hearts, or will we resolve inwardly to do better ourselves, to ensure that we never contribute to the problems of the world but apply our energies toward finding solutions?
There is so much good in the world from which to find inspiration. And while some may add to the darkness with misdirected violence, let us call upon ourselves to rise to every challenge, to shine bright so we can inspire others to shine themselves.