Changing the Narrative
George Floyd’s murder at the knee of Derek Chauvin and his conviction last week on all three counts confirmed an important shift in the narrative of policing in this country. More of the public accepts the narrative that police can be biased and more violent in their interaction with Black, Indigenous and People of Color than Whites. More attention is being paid to the daily reinforcement of this reality with deaths of BIPOC folks like Daunte Wright, shot to death needlessly during a traffic stop and incidents like Army second lieutenant Caron Nazario pulled over while driving his new car by two Virginia police officers who held him at gunpoint and assaulted him with pepper spray.
Yet these narrative changes could easily be reversed.
We have our own version of this right here in Albany with the aggressive response by Albany police to protests and an encampment at the APD South Station. This was the scene of violence last summer too. The police cleared the encampment using a bulldozer with only a 15-minute warning. A video of the police action was quite graphic, violent, and destructive. This isn’t the desired narrative of Albany police working out their differences with the community outlined in the April report of the Albany Policing Reform and Reinvention Collaborative.
Mayor Sheehan and Police Chief Hawkins are working hard to set the narrative about what happened. The article in the Times Union Tuesday morning amplifies the voice of community activist Amy Jones who was striving to negotiate between the police and the protesters presented a different narrative. Jones says Sheehan and Hawkins lied to her about not stopping the encampment. That was followed by a press conference by Alice Green Wednesday. Then add to the mix another previous narrative from Gregory McGee, the President of the Albany Police Union. In a strongly worded letter to the Mayor and Police Chief that was also publicly disseminated, he claimed the activity at South Station was putting Police lives at risk. Put this all together and we had all the ingredients for conflicting narratives with the potential to generate the bad outcome.
The protesters, the police officers, the Albany Police Union President, the Police Chief, the Capital City Rescue Mission right next to the encampment, the neighbors, the Mayor, each one has their own narrative about what the problems are and what happened. Not only do their narratives conflict, so do the narratives they bring to the crisis about each other.
The question now is what new narrative can be created. What process can begin to work toward truth and reconciliation that can repair the damage and injury then work toward resolution? Let us be grateful for peacemakers like Amy Jones and Alice Green and support them as agents who might be able to help in resolving this crisis.
These are difficult times of increasing polarization. Trump supporters locked into the stolen election narrative are not giving up. Some are preparing for a revolution. Trump continues to fuel that narrative that is translating into voter suppression laws and legislative interference with ballot counting. This will all heat up as the November 2022 election approaches.
May we resist this kind of polarization.
Unitarian Universalists refuse to embrace one narrative as the one and only truth, be it one revealed text, one prophet, one leader, one political party or one religion. We know what is true cannot be contained in one revelation, one person, one event, one belief system, one political platform or one interpretation. Much as we might prefer to adopt one narrative and reject the rest, we know we need to be willing to have it honestly and sincerely questioned and tested. Not only do we need to be open to having our narratives questioned and tested, let us welcome that search for truth and meaning. If the Trump Presidency has taught us anything it is the high value of seeking and speaking the truth and the socially destructive results of a constantly repeated lies.
No one story can capture all that needs to be known. Every story told is inadequate and incomplete. When we consider multiple stories and evaluate as many well founded sides as possible, we get a better understanding. Democracy is designed to support that process, however imperfectly we practice it. When we hear multiple stories, reflectively listening to make sure we understand them, we will make much wiser decisions and develop much better narratives for the next iteration. In this imperfect process of being human, we’ll never produce the final narrative. We can, however, produce better narratives that generate more care and compassion and cause less suffering and harm each time around.