Uncomfortable, but Marching

On December 13, 2014, people all across the United States marched against police violence, especially the violence against black men, and for justice for all people. I participated in the march in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. I marched for racial justice. I marched in memory of black men killed by white men who remain free. I marched because our governing systems are, in so many ways, not “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I marched for an inclusive, nonviolent democracy.

Several thousand people gathered at the Massachusetts State House. After a few speeches, the march began. There were young and old people, black and white people, families and single people, and groups of friends. I saw close to a dozen Co-Counselors. I felt powerful being part of a group that was taking over the streets, using the streets of Boston to say together, “Black lives matter.” One of my favorite times was joining a small group of young people singing “We Shall Overcome.”

Since there was no pre-set march route, the police closed off streets to keep traffic away from us while massing in force to keep us off the highway ramps. Otherwise they seemed content to let us go wherever our leaders wanted.

The march was one of many, in cities across the United States, billed as “Day of Anger: Millions March.” It’s not surprising that the chanting was strident: “What do we want? JUSTICE. When do we want it? NOW. If we don’t get it? SHUT IT DOWN!” and “No justice, no peace. No racist police!” As a white middle-class Protestant, I was uncomfortable with the anger these chants expressed. (Being white, I don’t have to contend with racist attitudes day in and day out.*) I chose to participate in solidarity with our black citizens, who do have to confront racism every day.

What I was most uncomfortable about was the targeting of police. Of course, the killing of unarmed black men by police was a major motivation for the march. So was the grand jury system that has given police officers a free pass. On the other hand, I don’t think shouting slogans about racist police helps us distinguish between the good policing that every community needs and the bad policing that targets people of color. Nor was attention placed on the systemic racism that underlies the violence.

Eventually we found ourselves in front of the Suffolk County Jail. Masses of police blocked the way forward to avoid shutting down traffic. The march leaders had two options: turn back or challenge the police lines. There was a call to link arms and move toward the police. I moved away, scared by the confrontation. A Co-Counselor who had been up close to the police sought me out, giving us both a few minutes to shake off our fear. The police lines were clearly impenetrable, but a couple dozen demonstrators chose to push into them. They were quickly arrested. The rest of us turned around and retraced our steps, continuing the march in a new direction.

It was much later that I realized how isolated I had felt during the march. I had been unsuccessful in linking up with friends or Co-Counselors beforehand and did not stay long with the Co-Counselors I saw at the march. I could have talked with other marchers, asked them what they thought about the march and about recent events. I could have asked for their thoughts about racism and about creating a more just society. I didn’t think to do any of those things. I wish I had gone with a group, or stayed with a group once I found one, or talked to strangers.

The business of building a better society is difficult. It challenges us to change ourselves, to be uncomfortable, to try new things. We can’t do this well alone. We need to talk with the people like ourselves and the people who are different from us. Sometimes we need to seek out the ones who are different. We need to break through our isolation patterns if we hope to really make a difference.

Bill Holland
West Newton, Massachusetts, USA

* “Day in and day out” means every day.


Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00