“I think someone famous might be in town,” conjectured my friend Ryan as we pulled to the side of the road and watched a fleet of police vehicles race past our car. Further up the street, a cluster of people began to form and trickle into a blocked off intersection.
“Maybe it’s the president . . . or Trump. That’d draw a crowd for sure,” he joked. Could it be? But why would either be in downtown Seattle in the middle of July? Wasn’t the Republican National Convention in Cleveland currently stealing the political spotlight? I thought to myself. I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the crowd in greater detail as we zipped onto a one-way side street.
Ryan’s phone started ringing.
“Hey, did you guys find parking?” asked Stella on the other line. We planned to meet her and another friend for dinner.
“No, we’re still trying to get to the place. We got delayed and rerouted by that police entourage. Did you see it?” I asked on speaker phone.
“I didn’t! What’s going on?” interjected Keri, the other friend.
“Not sure, but I think it might be some type of protest. I’m pretty sure I saw a few people holding signs just now.”
“Oh man. Wonder what’s happening. Call us when you find parking! We just found a spot,” Stella explained. I agreed, hanging up and scouring the congested streets for empty sidewalk space.
With no parking in sight, my eyes wandered beyond the streets and began taking mental snapshots of the city: an old man in a faded white T-shirt mowing his tiny lawn; a 20-something punk rocker covered in tattoos, taking his two, well-groomed collies on a walk; a group of ladies in sundresses, sipping their Starbucks; people playing Pokémon Go in the park, their phones tilted and fingers swiping; a busker with dreadlocks serenading the public, his guitar case peppered with one dollar bills and coins.
“Found one!” exclaimed Ryan as he pulled into a spot four blocks from the meeting place. We hurried to find the others, promptly forgetting the police barricade and protesters.
On the walk back to our cars after dinner, the four of us thought up touristy plans for the rest of our evening in Seattle. We rounded a corner and, to our utter surprise, ran straight into the crowd of protesters. They’d grown in size and had formed a huge circle in the middle of a main road. A man armed with a megaphone stood in the center with people of all ethnicities and genders surrounding him. Some held signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” and others raised images of the Black Power fist. Uniformed police on bicycles dotted the perimeter, supervising the event at a distance. “We need to end this senseless, racist violence! The police cannot keep shooting us. Share your voice!” the man in center urged.
He put the megaphone on the ground and gestured with his arms for people to step forward and speak. I stood frozen at the scene, watching as a tall, shirtless Caucasian man walked into the center and took up the device.
“I am a supporter of the—“ Squeeeak! “Of the Black Lives Matter—“ Squeeeeeak! The megaphone cut in and out, splicing his words and making it impossible for anyone to hear him. He fumbled unsuccessfully with the buttons.
“Mic check!” yelled someone off to the side. The multicultural crowd shifted to a more alert stance and lasered in on the man. He put the megaphone down and started speaking clipped sentences at his normal volume. Those in range of his voice repeated him word for word at a shout, essentially becoming ahuman megaphone. Collectively, they spoke a message of pain but of encouragement, imploring listeners to come together and support their fellow humans, regardless of ethnicity—to acknowledge the race and gender discrimination rampant in society and to counteract it. His segment ended in applause as the next person walked up to take his place.
The subsequent speaker, another Caucasian man, managed to operate the megaphone and also began his speech on a note of solidarity and support. Gradually, however, his speech devolved into a tirade of vitriol targeted at the police, specifically those stationed at the perimeter of the crowd.
“People like them want to keep us from having these marches!” he yelled, pointing a finger at the police on bikes. “They’re blocking our voices from being heard! We don’t need that!” he screamed, concluding with a stream of vulgarities. The crowd cheered and repeated his sentiments, just as they had with the previous speaker.
Standing at the perimeter of the circle, I shot glances at the stoic police officers sitting on bicycles a few feet away from me. Were they really there to block or to protect?
A young, charismatic African American woman walked into the center next, taking the megaphone and validating the previous speaker’s anger; however, she was quick to add, “Let’s not forget: we cannot hate everyone. Otherwise, we’ll be just as bad as the people we’re protesting.” She went on to explain that not all police are “bad”—that some are, in fact, there to protect and support the Black Lives Matter movement. Nods of agreement and cheers followed her as she found her place back in the circle.
Moments later, a final speaker—a lanky, light skinned African American man with a brunette afro—inched his way to the middle, carrying his young son on his shoulders. His two little daughters stood by his side, hands linked. Into the megaphone, he solemnly stated, “I don’t know how to explain all of this to my kids.” He waved his arms around him, taking in the whole crowd. “The simple fact is that I shouldn’t have to. Black lives matter.”
The original man in the middle joined this family at the center and took up the megaphone again, calling the group to march onward. “Whose lives matter?” he asked.
“BLACK LIVES MATTER!” shouted the crowd.
“No justice?” said the man.
“NO PEACE!” answered the crowd.
This call and response continued as the procession marched down the street. From the group’s first step forward, the police on the periphery immediately snapped into action, ensconcing the marchers into a protective bubble with their bikes. Police on motorcycles cleared the streets ahead, and larger police vehicles brought up the rear. My friends and I turned in the opposite direction, once again finding an alternate route to our parking spots.
After witnessing the powerful scene both within and without the circle, I found it ironic that just blocks away, someone was mowing his lawn, walking his dog, sipping her Starbucks, catching their Pokémon, singing for spare change, finding a parking spot—all completely oblivious or deliberately blind to the sobering events happening in their neighborhood. I also found it quite ironic that some in the circle, while bursting with support for the oppressed, demonized the very forces that enabled the streets to be clear, the protest to remain peaceful, the individuals—even the ones spewing hate—to maintain their personal safety. On the other hand, however, it was equally ironic that the same protective forces could so easily and preemptively take the life of a man named Mike Brown, a man named Alton Sterling.
I reflected on these tensions as my friends and I gazed at the Seattle skyline from Kerry Park later that evening. Captured in this last mental snapshot of the city were all of these groups: my party of four, the Seattle neighborhoods, the protestors, the police, the movements and ideologies that superseded us all. Each group had a blind spot and a means for filling that void with something else: blissful ignorance, seething anger, palpable discrimination, a political agenda. While seemingly innocuous or “noble,” the justification for each void suddenly seemed like a mere anesthetic—a temporary fix for an endless cycle of misery. Even the glimpses of hope—the human megaphone and the African American woman’s added explanation, for example—became overshadowed by the overwhelming hopelessness in the world, the “all of this” that the father found so impossible to explain to his kids. Through my human eyes, I looked at the glittering city lights with sadness.
Bible-believing people, however, see with an alternate perspective. While they also recognize the extreme brokenness of the world and should take action to repair it to the best of their abilities, followers of Christ ultimately recognize that no human-made tool or method of (counter) defense will definitively fix the world’s dysfunction. They acknowledge that their human expectation for change will always meet disappointment. Thus, they live seeking not a mere anesthetic or a stance rooted in anger. Neither do they sit idly by in blissful ignorance as the world around them suffers. Instead, they march forward saying, “My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at all times, you people” (Psalms 62:5-8). With such assurance, they replace their human manufactured hope with one reinforced in divine power. They believe that “power belongs to God. Also to You, O Lord, belongs mercy; for You render to each one according to his work” (vs. 11-12). Knowing all of this, their daily lives, their activism, their ideologies fall in step with God-given expectation and become empowered by an unchanging source of divine strength; their actions, regardless of the outcome, find triumph in His glory—not their human efforts alone. Through this lens, they can view their mental snapshots of the world with an everlasting hope.