The physics law I remember most clearly is: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In football, a blocker is always pushed back in order to overpower the initial block and make a tackle. Arguments are a push and push. Debates are ideas against ideas. Gun violence is guns against guns. Guns against fear. Guns against hopelessness. Power against power. Black Lives Matter at base is a pushback against police violence. Calling out the National Guard is a pushback against actual, perceived and anticipated violence. The American Civil War was slavery against freedom, union against division. Name your war. Gun against gun. Action-reaction.
How can this physics law be turned to good? A reporter on the streets of Washington, DC commented on the recent peaceful demonstrations in contrast to the passionate moments of previous demonstrations. The difference? The non-presence of the National Guard and threatening police. Demonstrators were allowed to sing, shout, chant, carry signs and march. There was no threatening violence to push against. Also, action had been taken by the Hennepin County District Attorney to charge and arrest all four of the officers who were responsible for George Floyd’s death. Similar legal actions had been taken in response to other violent police practices. People felt justice was on the table and officers were being held accountable. The legal system was a nonviolent push which resulted in a nonviolent push by the demonstrators. The physics law was true.
Enter guns. Data doesn’t lie. More guns equals more violence. Homicide, suicide, domestic violence, unintentional gun deaths. Police worry about being outgunned. Read the data from www.engageelca.org, protectmn.org, the trace.org, giffords.org. The facts presented are not mere ignorant opinions. Facts matter as science matters.
But we say, guns are a reality. True. Therefore, police need to have guns at the ready. Black fathers and mothers need to have “the talk” with their children about how to act if they are stopped by the police. If you are driving and are stopped, leave both hands on the steering wheel. Why? So the police will not believe you are reaching for a weapon. How then can we make the basic physics law work to lessen gun push back? How can we create a nonviolent gun push? Studying states and nations that have low gun death rates, here are some nonviolence pushes: 1) Realizing that not everyone is mature and stable enough to buy and own a gun. Some folks are too young, too mentally unstable, too angry, too criminally focused, too racist, too emotionally tight to own a gun; 2) Background checks for commercial and private sales will help create a safer gun owner culture; 3) Require a permit to purchase license for every gun sale in conjunction with the background check to provide another sieve through which a purchaser is screened; 4) Require guns to be locked-up, unloaded, and ammunition locked-up in a separate safe at home; 5) Require a gun safety course for all buyers; 6) Require gun licenses to be renewed every two years; 7) Ban assault weapons from private ownership; 8) Require gun shops to register all gun purchases and keep them on file; 9) Hold gun shop owners responsible for limiting the number of guns sold to individuals and for reporting stolen guns; 10) Guarantee severe punishment for gun shop owners who sell guns illegally and enmasse; 11) Sell “safe guns”.
All of these actions are nonviolent pushes to ensure gun safety. All of these actions allow responsible persons to purchase and use guns. Data proves that these actions result in lower violent gun push back. Why? Because the emphasis is on safety, public health and high regard for human life, seeing the other not as an enemy or threat but as a friend, partner or just another human being created in the Image of God like all of us! The push back is nonviolent.
What about police and guns? A lawyer whose job it is to defend police against accusations, has said, “I hate to say this, but police are licensed to do violence.” A Harvard professor said our police are trained to see the other person as an “enemy.” Radly Balko has written a book titled THE RISE OF THE WARRIOR COP. In the last 15 years, only five police officers have been convicted of homicide. In Minnesota, only ONE police officer has been convicted of homicide and he was Black. We have a President who announced “I am mobilizing resources to protect your Second Amendment rights.” and “I am a law and order President.” We have a President and Attorney General who have proclaimed “We must dominate the streets.” What kind of message is sent with this threat? Why is it that some refer to the police as “KKGun”? Use a gun and get a gun push back from the police.
Demonstrators in the streets are sending a message. Police are too trigger happy. Police are too quick to push back violently in stressful situtations. The knee to the neck is another handle for a gun. Inequity in push and push-back is bloodily visual in holes in heads and legs caused by rubber bullets fired by police against nonviolent demonstrators. We need structural change in our policing. Hiring practices ought to be upgraded. A candidate for police work ought to have their personal histories rigorously reviewed. Regular mental health evaluations ought to be mandatory. Training ought to be re-evaluated. In Hennepin County, the City council has outlawed choke-holds and has made it a policy for all police officers that if you see a member of your team acting against policy, you have a duty to step in and stop the action. De-escalation ought to be part of training, taking a page from the Salt Lake City police training manual which has an excellent record in nonviolent policing. Policing ought to be seen as part of a public health strategy and not as “policing the enemy.” There has been talk of “community policing”, building relationships with the people in your police area. In all of these suggestions the focus is on nonviolent “pushes” in response to stressful situations.
Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said on “60 Minutes”, “Democracy is fragile. Addressing [demonstrations and protests] with excessive use of force does not strike me as a good strategy.” She capsulizes the physics law, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Bishop Eaton of the ELCA, preached on Trinity Sunday. She focused on God in relationship with us: Living-Giving-Loving. God is creator of diversity! We should be color amazed! All are created in the Image of God! The overwhelming number of protestors are demonstrating for justice, for equal love. We must demand equal love/equal justice from our police. We must demand that police value life, give life and love life. We must expect amazing equality of justice in the color of diversity.
Ron Letnes (Rev. Dr.)