There's a Solution to Cops vs Protesters

The only thing that can make two opposing camps listen to each other is tribalism.

Ferguson was the biggest story of 2014. Not because public opinion is still chewing on the evidence of that case, but because it incited public outrage over subsequent events--particularly the death of Eric Garner in New York.

Marches ensued, roads were blocked, signs were carried reading "hands up, don't shoot," and Twitter quickly followed with the hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter. You might expect the tone of these protests to be very bitter and indignant. But by and large, what I've heard most from black folks is, "How am I supposed to raise my kids in a world where cops can kill them without question?"

Instead of engaging that discussion, cops and conservatives have largely responded with their own protests. On Twitter, they've made hashtags like #BlueLivesMatter with the more moderate among them preferring #AllLivesMatter. On Facebook, you'll find memes picturing cops with phrases like, "If you are anti police then unfriend me." And in New York City, law enforcement publicly turned their backs on the mayor because they felt he turned his back on them.

In all of these cases, what's interesting is that the right wing of America interpreted "black lives matter" as "black lives matter more" or "blue lives don't matter." Which, as far as I can tell, are things no one is saying. But it serves to illustrate that whenever a controversy goes public, people pick sides before listening to each other.

The word for that is tribalism. And at its worst, tribalism is unthinking, corporate loyalty to one's demographic or affiliation. Like an agitated hornet's nest, it responds with a fight and defend instinct that is unwilling or unable to process conflict with any degree of self-control. And it reveals an intense pride in being right by viewing criticism as an attack to be countered and defeated.

So what began as a protest out of fear and family has quickly degenerated into cops versus protesters tribal warfare. Instead of discussing equal treatment under the law, the conversation has become a false dichotomy of who's right and who's wrong.

Not only is this polarizing and unproductive, it's pure evil. Humility is about submitting ourselves to the needs of others, and nothing is more un-Christlike and, thus, more evil than putting ourselves (and our rightness) above someone else. But according to Romans 12, evil can't simply be stopped; it must be overcome with good. Which means that the solution to evil tribalism is good tribalism.

Good tribalism stems from pride just as much as evil tribalism. The difference is the former finds pride in who God made us while the latter perverts that into a sense of superiority. And with that superiority comes a loyalty intolerant of questions. Any critique from an "outsider" is rejected as irrelevant because they don't understand what it's like to be "inside." And any moral failure on the inside is forgiven as a mistake because they do understand.

Pride in who we are, on the other hand, is dedicated to pursuing excellence. It doesn't excuse mistakes or ignore criticism because its goal isn't to maintain a facade of superiority. Good tribalism is about taking responsibility for our demographic, not simply being loyal to it.

For example, evil tribalism was when I used to ignore the cries of injustice from my black brothers and sisters because "not all white people are racist" or because "my family never owned slaves." Good tribalism is when I say, "I'm sorry for how my people have treated you. What can I do to help?" It's about identifying with those like you, good and bad, and taking responsibility for them.

In our country's current situation, good tribalism would look like protesters taking responsibility for bad protesters and cops taking responsibility for bad cops. Not saying to the other, "Look what you made us do!" Relationships are never repaired when you feel entitled or superior. It's only when you admit to your own failings--even those of your affiliates--that you can start listening to each other.

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