The night Charlotte burned

by Larretta Rivera-Williams


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It makes no sense to me for people to throw solid objects through windows, to bash in cars and turn them on their wheels. What good does it do to crash the window of a museum with a sidewalk bench and to steal Michael Jordan athletic shoes from the store next door?

What good does it do to turn anger into acts of violence; frustration into abusive words that hurt? What good does it do to burn trashcans in streets and throw beer bottles at police? The same police who dress in riot gear and throw tear gas into the crowd of looters and polluters who wear explicit T-shirts and bandanas to cover their sweaty faces.

Keith L. Scott was another black man killed by a police officer. This time it was in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 19. In less than 24 hours the quiet protests in the downtown area of Charlotte erupted into a blaze of violence.

I live 90 miles from downtown Charlotte, but my emotions rushed with the people on the street, the boisterous crowd searching for answers. Not just in the crowded streets of the Queen City, but in the crowds of Illinois, Minnesota, South Carolina, Texas, California, and everywhere that parents cry, wives scream, and children question, “When is Daddy coming home?”

It is the same story, but a different cast. It is the same story with different plots. Stories of a culture that I have not lived in, but I have lived with. A reality that I pray never becomes my story or my nephew's lived experience.

Violence is not the answer to ending violence! Unfortunately, it has become the way of drawing national attention to one more act of a senseless killing.

To act nonviolently in a technological world where we can have everything with the tap of a button has not required the patience of our millennials. Therefore, when their lives are constantly being disrupted and corrupted by violence — to protest nonviolently is too silent. They need to be heard!

Sadness tugs at my heart; fear chills around my shoulders when I watch the news. It is mostly our youth and younger adults who are on the streets rioting, questioning and expressing their anger and frustration. Why was another black man shot? Is my friend going to be next? Am I going to be next? Can't you see we are afraid? One sign read, "Black skin is not my weapon."

When did we begin to fear walking city streets or stopping to check the engine of a car in need of oil or to simply change a nail-bitten tire?

Where did it all go wrong? I remember when Policemen Red and Rankin were neighborhood friends and police officers walked on foot patrol in downtown. Little boys wanted to be like them; little girls, too, whose fathers let them wear their black caps with the black patent bills.

It was always a feeling of excitement, for both young and old, to see policemen racing to protect or save someone; sirens blaring as shiny white cars with red and white stripes dashed by in a flash.

Who are the friendly forces today? They are not always like the Regans from Blue Bloods on Friday. Who are the criminals? They are not all like the ones that Chicago PD chases on Wednesday.

Our country needs more love in homes, no guns on the streets, no fingers on triggers, and no blood-stained streets.

Our country needs voices to speak out and to care! Where are the preachers, evangelists, and teachers when society is ripping away and the media is in full force revealing the ugliness of human nature?

Our country needs more love in homes, no guns on the streets, no fingers on triggers, and no blood-stained streets.

Our country needs role models for youths who are afraid. The young of today, 15, 16, 18, and 20 were born into violent societies. They know no other way to express their anger and their fears.

What can we do when our cluttered minds overflow because we can no longer recall who died yesterday, who was killed last week, who shot whom the week before? By God's grace we cannot grow silent in our own fears and frustrations.

Crying out to God, let us pray as the psalmist did; trusting in unfailing love. God has brought us too far to leave us!

Psalm 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O lord my God
give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
my enemy will say, 'I have overcome him,'
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
for He has been good to me.

Our country needs more love in homes, no guns on the streets, no fingers on triggers, and no blood-stained streets.

[Mercy Sr. Larretta Rivera-Williams is originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she is coordinator of pastoral care at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church. Since entering the Sisters of Mercy in 1982, she has ministered as an elementary, secondary and divinity school educator. She has written and produced plays as well as directed and choreographed.]