On Kneeling

I was raised in a family filled with military veterans. I was also a proud member of the Scouting movement. I’ve always associated my sense of patriotism with a respect for persons. I believe in human rights balanced with a sense of personal responsibility. This is how I was formed in citizenship by family and community.

People in positions of power and leadership must weigh in more heavily on the side of their responsibilities and protecting the rights of others. This pretty much goes for parents, ministers, celebrities, coaches, athletes, teachers, mentors, and yes, officers of the peace.

I also believe there is value in treating symbols with reverence. Some things I’ve done willingly in the name of national liturgy: removing my hat for the anthem. Singing along, even if a designated soloist bellows it out on the microphone. Even in church, I lean to programming “This Is My Song” on national holidays, but I will accede to “America the Beautiful” if needed. Some of my liturgist colleagues consider that concession with disdain, but I tend not to, for a closing song or a postlude.

A few years ago, I considered taking a knee in the stands of sporting events. I didn’t consult with friends of color about that. I felt reticent about taking a step that people closer to danger would see as unhelpful coming from a white man. I think it’s getting close to time to reconsider it.

After the responsible example of football player Colin Kaepernick, what I did decide to do is while removing my hat and standing still, I haven’t sung the anthem in a few years now. And I leave my right hand with hat at my side–no heart in it for me. My respect is mixed. More needs to happen for the symbols to regain their meaning.

I noticed that image above making the rounds in social media since last night, coupled with the still of a police officer kneeling on the neck of his murder victim. Armed persons in power killing sister and brother citizens in the US is nothing new. Passions run high when guns are involved. When disagreements get heated. When the status quo is challenged. And even for simpler, more stupid reasons.

When I first saw the story break on Mr Floyd’s death, I admit it was hard to believe that this happened yet again. I have a cousin who is a police officer and another who is retired from that service. I’ve also known loved ones and friends harassed by police–those stories are numerous enough, and some of them even involved white men. But given the ever-present social media, I cannot believe there is a single police department in the country that isn’t combing through every possible means of ensuring that their employees treat every person with dignity, and doubling down on positive relations with people of color. If police cannot abide by that, they should be disarmed and prohibited from carrying a weapon of any sort. Then they can decide under those conditions if being a peace officer is worth the price of respect for others.

I don’t expect to be singing any sort of patriotic song for a long, long time.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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