I had the day off today in observance of Dr. King’s birthday. It comes on the heels of a pretty stressful week. I spent most of the weekend catching up on Netflix and working on some things around the house.
We got rid of Netflix around six months ago. Honestly, it felt like there was nothing on it and I did not need any more distractions. After last week, I needed the distraction.
A couple of the shows made me laugh those deep belly laughs that heal the soul.
A couple of them made me cry.
Some made me feel good.
And one angered me so much, I had could not watch it all at once.
When They See Us.
When They See Us is a movie depiction of the 1989 Central Park jogger rape case. In 1989 I was about to graduate college. The alleged assailants were collectively known as the Central Park 5. And while I’m ashamed to say this now, I thought they were guilty.
Because of this case ‘Wilding’ became part of our vocabulary. Wilding–the activity by a gang of youths of going on a protracted and violent rampage in a public place, attacking people at random. The young men who were arrested personified the term. Whether it was fair or not was another thing entirely.
It sold a lot of papers. It probably made some careers. The issue was, there were lives attached to it. Lives of the accused. Lives of their families. The life of the jogger.
And it was false. The crime happened. It was brutal and I’m not minimizing that. But the arrests? Four African-American minors and a Latino minor were all convicted after giving forced confessions and with no physical evidence at the scene.
Spoiler Alert–Somebody else confessed to the crime in 2002.
This was so hard to watch because I teach these young people. I see them every day. And my heart breaks for them and for what we lose every time we lose one of them to gangs, prison, violence, drugs and the many other dangers that they are not supposed to have to navigate at their age. I am angry at a system that looks for simple answers to complex situations. And politicians that are more interested in soundbites than solutions.
But I’m mostly angry to see five men of color who had their lives stolen from them because people needed to feel safe and move their careers along.
I turned it off because I could feel the anger for these people rising within me. Then I remembered the words of Dr. King. “You cannot drive out hate with hate. Only love can do that.”
So I go back to work tomorrow and do what I can with what I have. And I have a lot of love to give.
I know that it is our responsibility to create the life we want. I preach that with Happy Fix all the time. And I believe it. We only have control over our reactions to events. Not necessarily to the events themselves.
But what happens when you are 14 and you are dragged into a police station, questioned for a minimum of seven hours and told that you cannot go home until you confess? You are without food, water and any type of guidance for this scenario. What would your reaction be?
There is so much judgment and hate in this world right now. Or maybe it’s just what we see when we look at the news or social media. Why? Does it make us feel superior to others? Does it help ease the guilt we may feel about how members of our society are marginalized? Do we feel incapable of doing anything so its easier to blame others for where they are in life?
One of the quotes I heard on the show is that guilt is a lazy emotion. It brings no energy to a situation.
I don’t feel guilty about what happened. I feel sad and angry about it and I’m glad the five young men were eventually exonerated. But that does not give them their lives back. Neither does hating the people who did this to them even though they knew better. Lazy police work and shoddy prosecution. In this case, it took 40 years and 2 months from these men. But who’s counting?
The takeaway from this is the knowledge that if I don’t want to see this happen to the kids I teach or, anybody for that matter, I need to take Dr. King’s words to heart. Be the love that drives out the darkness. Show my kids all that life has to offer. Help them find the confidence and the drive to do what they want to do and be who they want to be. Help them find the tools they need to live the lives they want to live. In love and in the light. Flip the switch and dammit, be the love that leads to light.