Over the past few months — and most recently at the Joplin City Council meeting on Sept. 8 — I heard repeated sentiment that I have struggled to completely understand and to process in my heart and mind.
That sentiment is ... “Black Lives Matter and they matter more now than ever, however we don’t need it here.”
The sentiment is ... “We don’t need any protest or rallies here because we aren’t racist at all. We are a loving and tolerant community, and we are scripture-driven and Bible-based, which teaches us to love one another as we love ourselves. As a result of that, we don’t need anything here that may bring light to any racial disparity in our community or in our nation because it simply doesn’t exist.”
The sentiment is ... “We haven’t had any police-related shootings, no recent complaints from anyone of color against our police, people of color get along great in Joplin and systemic racism simply doesn’t exist here.”
I have heard this a lot in 2020.
Black Lives Matter is so much more than rallies and protests. BLM has already been in our community for years now and hasn’t caused any riots or unrest. In fact, BLM has done just the opposite. BLM has participated in community cleanup projects, has raised funds to help minority-owned businesses join the local chamber of commerce, has taught history classes at local institutions, and has been a valuable voice to local law enforcement to help bridge the gap to communities of color. Local citizens who are active with BLM are motivated to see this community flourish and move forward together. The implication that, “Those people are just racist, terrorist, Marxist, troublemakers” is simply not true and has never been. BLM activists are your neighbors and co-workers, they shop where you shop and aspire for the same community that we all do.
The inference that as a council member I should interrogate at length anyone associated with BLM if they are to approach this city is in itself problematic. I would be willing to go as far as to say that this mentality actually gave birth to the movement. Our unwillingness to embrace our differences and search for commonalities in an effort to live out the scripture of “loving your neighbor as yourself” is divisive in itself. I cannot understand having a position such as this. For me, it’s like being a Kansas City Chiefs fan and when they lose a game the only choice I have is to write them off as losers and never support them again. Ridiculous, right?
Black Lives Matter has definitely not had a good year and most of the coverage they have gotten has not been positive. One could say that they are on a losing streak. As a person of color, should I change teams? Got any suggestions who I should throw my support behind? Peaceful marches haven’t made an effective change, kneeling will get your mother called names by the president and even live undisputed video evidence is scrutinized deeply and we are told it doesn’t tell the whole story and that we shouldn’t believe what we are seeing.
I think this is a good place to let you know that I personally believe that rioting, looting, destruction of property and doing the unthinkable of harming a fellow human being is absolutely despicable, and those found guilty of such acts need to be and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. That form of protest is nonproductive and lends to greater division.
It saddens me to see this play out around this great nation, and I am so glad we have not had to experience anything anywhere close to that here in our corner of the world. I would be greatly disturbed by that here and would be leading the charge to hold those accountable for such actions. I absolutely Back the Blue and the incredibly difficult job they do every day.
I do believe that we must find a way to end racial injustices, but everything that people of color have done in my lifetime always has been met with the above-mentioned attitudes of, “Please don’t do it that way.”
Well, in which way would you have us protest the daily realities that people of color live with constantly?
Go ahead. I’ll listen.
Black Lives Matter. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. Keep your distance.
Hey, Joplin, love you.
Keenan T. Cortez is mayor pro tem of Joplin.