Atlanta: Rise up for peace

Moderated by Rick Badie

Last week, the AJC hosted a live chat in which we posed a question to readers that my colleague, Jay Bookman, had asked in a column: “Could what happened in Baltimore take place in Atlanta?” Today, an Atlantan who took part in that dialogue takes the issue a step further and challenges our community to host a conversation on racial matters in regard to contemporary inequities and past mistreatment. The other essay, by a self-described conservative, rounds out the discussion.

Rise up for peace

By Dee Westbrook

I have proudly called Atlanta home the past 10 years. I love this city. Love the way every building sits against the skyline. Love MARTA, though it doesn’t take me anywhere I need to go. Love the arts culture that weaves its way through every facet of this city. Love that in my apartment complex, I hear so many different languages spoken when I take walks. And I will always root for the Braves.

I was relieved The Atlanta Journal-Constitution posed the question, “Can what happened in Baltimore happen in Atlanta?” — relieved someone asked the same question I did, and noticed that racial tensions are not simply a Ferguson or a Baltimore problem. Or a “thug” problem.

This is an America problem, and it’s been growing for decades.

So far, I have heard and seen a resounding “Yes” to this question, and that answer breaks my heart. Atlanta is a great city “too busy to hate,” an epicenter for civil justice. What I’m seeing on TV is not something I ever want to see in our streets. Yet we may.

There is a serious racial inequality buried deep in the heart of this nation that must be aggressively and carefully extracted.

Even geographically, Atlanta is split racially. I-20 is a dividing line between the white and black communities. Metro Atlanta, undeniably, is marked by its silent segregation by its uninformed and irrational fear, and by some of the same problems that led to riots in Baltimore. These rioters have gone far too long as unheard, unseen, ignored and invisible. The unheard, unseen, ignored and invisible reside in our city, too. We must begin to hear, see, pay attention and give voice to those hurting around us.Do we not have a responsibility to shape this much-needed conversation, not only for our city of Atlanta, but for the rest of the nation?

Every great movement starts with a conversation, with one person saying to another, “This isn’t quite right.” A conversation moved to action provokes change. Already, conversations are being held everywhere — in diners, coffee shops, parks and living rooms, at dinner tables and in courtrooms, in the homes of tired and hurting people, on the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore, and even alone to ourselves.

These conversations need to move us to action. But what kind of action? Will we join the conversation, listen to each other and join hands to find common ground? Or will we ignore the conversation, suppress the speaker and use our fists to fight for higher ground?

I submit that the conversation is the solution. If we do not pursue peaceful talks with each other, we will find ourselves on a battlefield that will drive us even farther apart. It will result in more bloodshed on all sides.

In the 1960s, America looked to Atlanta leaders to start a needed conversation about the equal and fair treatment of all people. America needed examples to navigate the overgrown roads of hatred and oppression. Today, America is searching for guidance through these same roads.

Atlanta, we need to RISE UP and demonstrate peace in this tumultuous time. These conversations need to take place publicly in our city. Why not start them peacefully?

We must start to assemble peacefully with each other to listen, understand and love each other. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, there is unrest and fear here. Let’s take it upon ourselves to maneuver through these issues by gathering publicly for reconciliation, not violence.

This is a call to leaders of all races and cultures to come together and move our conversations to real and positive change. If we do not work together to aggressively yet carefully extract the fast-growing tumor of hatred among us, we will watch it grow to kill us.

Let’s start a new conversation. Reach me at SDeeWestbrook@gmail.com.

Dee Westbrook is an Atlanta musician and vocal coach.

Conservatives: Show you care

By Demetrius Minor

As our nation felt the searing pain of agony and loss over the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, they also witnessed the chaotic and violent rebuttal from angry citizens.

The media highlighted the looting and anarchic acts of those who participated in criminal activity, but gave less attention to clergy and community activists who came together to help clean up the debris and bring some sense of calm and peace to a troubled situation.

Besides the normal and expected renouncing of the destroying of property, it would behoove conservatives to attempt to be human and show emotion.Many conservatives are quick to defend law enforcement and point out the obvious fact they are present to protect our families and communities from harm and danger. Nothing is wrong with declaring this. There should be a respect and admiration for those who thrust themselves into harm’s way on a regular basis. But there should also be a sensitive acknowledgement of the anger of those who feel intimidated by law enforcement.

It’s human nature to mourn the loss of life, especially the life of someone young and innocent. Conservatives would do themselves good to show empathy. Acknowledging the feelings of those calling for justice and harsher scrutiny of police officers does not make one anti-law enforcement.

Constant referrals to a person’s criminal record and the defense mechanisms used by law enforcement, without the acknowledgment of the loss of life and how it affects that person’s family, will make many think conservatives are desensitized to other people’s reality — especially the reality of African-Americans, some of whom live in communities that exhibit a tense and strained relationship with law enforcement.

As an African-American male, I’ve had my share of encounters with law enforcement. While my personal experiences never resulted in an unfair arrest or a harsh confrontation, I realize that is not the case for everyone. I believe it’s important for me to advise others to have respect for those who don the blue uniform, but I’m also aware there are some who share with me the same color of skin who are not as fortunate.

I don’t perceive myself as a victim, nor do I think the police I encountered had a racial motive. Still, I’m not naive enough to think this doesn’t occur in some fashion. My passion and admiration for the human race allows me to have a listening ear to the woes and plight of my community, even if I haven’t experienced it. It’s through listening that change can be implemented.

The crisis in Baltimore can easily happen anywhere. People don’t want to just know facts. They are acutely aware violence is wrong and damaging property is criminal and lawless. They know race will be inserted into the dialogue, a division that causes a shift in focus.

What they want conservatives to understand is a life was lost and they desire to see justice. Yes, their emotions can blind them and cause them to take a position contrary to what may have actually happened. But it doesn’t take an act of Congress to embrace the brokenhearted and those hurting.

The message to conservatives is simple: Show you care.

Demetrius Minor, pastoral assistant at Calvary New Life Tabernacle, is the author of “Preservation and Purpose: The Making of a Young Millennial — A Manifesto for Faith, Family and Politics.”


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