Martin Luther King famously noted that violence “destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue.” This week’s violent looting has produced a deafening monologue.
On the south side of Chicago, where I pastor a church and lead a ministry, Project H.O.O.D., we are in the business of building dialogue as the way of rebuilding our community. We help build community leaders and we equip our neighbors—especially young black men who are exiting gangs—to build their own character and to help rebuild the streets. We build self-esteem and respect for our fellow man. And we build stronger families with firmer foundations.
The destructive violence, rioting, and looting of the last few days, however, have quickly erased years of our dialogue.
When I began New Beginnings Church on the south side of Chicago, the neighborhood held the sad distinction of having one of the nation’s highest homicide rates. Over the years, we have changed that statistic. We have built a thriving church with an average of 600 to 750 people at our services each Sunday. We have a community center with a free gym, a career center that offers advice and assistance with interviews, and a high-impact jobs training program that has helped people build successful careers in fields such as construction or landscaping.
Our work has paid off, and we have witnessed the power of a changed life. I have seen the excitement of young men who have turned away from violent gangs to embark on their own new beginning and get fitted for construction boots for their new jobs.
Where despair once reigned, we have replaced it with hope and opportunity.
The riots of this past week, however, have set us back in our ministry work and have done incalculable damage to our community. The physical damage to property pales in comparison to the damage done to our morale.
George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis sparked understandable outrage. How could another black man have died because of police brutality? The protests began as a natural outpouring of grief, as white and black Americans were united in their horror at this senseless act.
But these protests turned violent, and the victims of this widespread looting are often the black community leaders and business owners. How does it advance our cause of racial harmony to wreck the black communities?
We are still surveying the damage on our streets. All of the CVS and Walgreens buildings were looted. The result is that we no longer have a pharmacy in our neighborhood. Church members are shuttling members of our community out to the suburbs to get their prescriptions and basic goods.
The grocery stores were also looted, leaving us without options to purchase local food.
The question lingers on many of our minds: Will these stores and pharmacies—so essential for daily living here—ever come back? It’s challenging enough in normal times to lure stores and businesses to rough neighborhoods; it’s going to be far more difficult to entice business owners to set up shop in our beleaguered communities now.
Liberal politicians in Illinois and across the country have fanned the flames of anger over the past several years. Their policies and worldview emphasize government as the solution to all problems, except, paradoxically, when we need police. Our mayor, Lori Lightfoot, has been unable or unwilling to put a stop to the violence in the streets of our home city, in part because she has been unable to offer a strong defense for good law enforcement agents doing the necessary work of making our neighborhoods livable.
Lost in the liberal messaging is the reality that the foundation of our society is the rule of law. The tragic killing of George Floyd reminds us that we need better training and screening for police officers. But the vast majority of the law enforcement agents in our nation advance racial equality, and help black Americans participate in the American dream.
No one, after all, wants to live in an un-policed and lawless neighborhood. Thriving neighborhoods are able to attract businesses and families precisely because of the rule of law and the police officers upholding it. Lawless neighborhoods, by contrast, are a turn-off for parents and business owners.
Violence is rampant in Chicago, and it has nothing to do with isolated incidents of police brutality. Over Memorial Day weekend, ten African-Americans were shot and killed in drive-by shootings. I’ve given funeral sermons for victims of drive-by shootings in the past, and those victims’ deaths are each a senseless tragedy.
On the south side of Chicago, we don’t need police stepping back and retreating because of political agendas. The logical extension of liberal police reform is for law enforcement agents to retreat from their duties, but this is exactly wrong and will weaken our neighborhoods.
We need justice in the George Floyd case, and we need assurances that these hateful acts will not take place again. At the same time, we need partnerships with the police so they will help us re-establish law and order in our neighborhoods.
Democrats, however, cling to wrongheaded rhetoric that does nothing to stop the destruction of our homes. It is no coincidence that the most violent looting and destruction took place this past week in cities heavily controlled by Democrats.
I’ve been attacked, been robbed, life has been threatened. Black Americans deserve better than this.