To hate and violence, we must respond with love

by John-Paul Pryor

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In the wake of recent violence, we recall the words of one of the great soldiers of peace
It was some five years ago that I was driving through Alabama with an African-American artist whose show I was curating in Memphis when we were pulled over by a traffic cop for being just over the speed limit. The artist held a licence to carry a firearm, and had one in his glove compartment, along with his driving licence. I will not go into the details here, but basically we drove away that day without him having to show his details, despite the initial conversation consisting of an aggressive tone and lines such as 'what y'all doing' in the state of Alabama, boy?'

The reason? In the middle of an extremely tense moment, I saw a window of opportunity to engage the police officer in a conversation about the art he made as a young man, after he had stated: 'Are y'all an artist? I used to draw some when I was young.' Let's be clear, the ensuing conversation was instigated by a well-dressed white man in the passenger seat who had a smattering of training in classical acting, a British accent and was speaking calmly in the best received pronunciation he could muster. After the police officer had described to us his painting technique in some detail, he let us go on, without so much as ticket. The artist always swore we were lucky as hell that day not to even have to open the glove compartment... and it's only after seeing the Philando Castile shooting that I've realised exactly what he meant.

I don't believe all cops are racist. I firmly believe there is good and bad in every societal structure, and it takes a hell of a lot of integrity to put your life on the line every day on dangerous streets. However, the fact that a populace with 'the right to bear arms' are running scared of a police force they deem, upon some instances of seemingly irrefutable evidence, to be infected with entrenched racism, is a recipe for the disastrous and murderous acts that unfolded in recent days in Dallas, Texas. There are no words to describe this escalation in the bloodshed, except, perhaps, to say that hate begets hate. It's a far greater man who made that clear in the Civil Rights era, and today, we publish his words here, in memory of those officers shot down in cold blood in Dallas, and in memory of the blood of innocents:

"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy; instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it...Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Image: Jasper Johns, "Flag" (1954-55). The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

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