In the late 1960s, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. continued to preach nonviolent social change, H. Rap Brown declared, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” Political assassinations had become all too commonplace. In a matter of five years, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been gunned down in Dallas, Texas. Soon, the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy would join the unspeakable tragedies of that era. Brown delivered what became one of his famous proclamations at the National Press Club here in Washington on July 2, 1967. His speech came in the wake of President Lyndon Johnson’s creation of the Kerner Commission to investigate the violent riots that had torn through urban America in cities such as Detroit and Newark, New Jersey. Brown was incensed that urban riots would be the catalyst for a presidential commission when violence had always been a hallmark of American life. It was a violent revolution that birthed America in 1776. It was a violent Civil War that tore the union asunder and led to the terrible vehement legacy of the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizen’s Council, and other racist hate groups who had no compunction in rape, mutilation, and murder to further their cause. The American West was won through terror and intimidation. Entire tribes of Native Americans were killed as the U.S. marched toward its manifest destiny. Brown made a good point; “Violence is as American as cherry pie.”
Although it is tragic, we should not be surprised at the way violence has paralyzed Black and brown neighborhoods. Just last week, D.C. witnessed its one hundredth murder of the year, a 30% rise since 2017. Entrenched poverty, an underground economic drug culture, and the paucity of basic civilities are all to blame. It is no secret that poverty and crime go hand-in-hand. We tend to forget that it was the Great Depression that spawned such gangland heroes as Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, and John Dillinger, which is another problem. Young people in poor neighborhoods watch a lot of television and go to movies. The most popular shows are the ones that glorify brutality and barbarity.
The church must step up and address the many ways savagery has poisoned society. Famously, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche declared, “The last Christian died on the cross.” We at Shiloh must prove him wrong. When we encounter hate speech, often the precipitator of cruelty, we should speak peacefully in all situations. Proverbs 15:1 states, “A soft answer turneth away wrath” (KJV). We should find ways to work with our neighboring schools to share that all great world religions teach that God is first and foremost a God of peace. We must teach our children methods and strategies of nonviolent reconciliation to counter their problems. Bullies have always existed and will always exist. We do not have to be roped into revenge to right the wrongs we have experienced. Finally, we must work with businesses and government to create jobs as we prepare young people to be ready when jobs are available.
We must never forget the words of Isaiah, “And he shall judge among the nations and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4 KJV)