There is so much to say regarding recent events. So much heartache to express that it's hard to find a way to focus.
But focus I must. The way I process horrific news is to try to find the heart of the troubles for myself. And after a lot of reading and soul-searching, I feel that so many of the nation's troubles today lie in a lack of empathy towards victims of violence and our obsession with using further violence as a tool for revenge.
I am a mother, and it's summer. Life right now is in many ways a shelter from the troubling events of the world around me. My daughter's days are filled with neighborhood kids coming for backyard fun, and I often play the role of referee. This week, a little boy hit my daughter because she'd been chasing him. Instead of empathizing with her, I said that he wouldn't have hit her if she hadn't been chasing him.
What a terrible lesson I taught both of them that day. She was the victim. He was the perpetrator. Sure, being chased is annoying. But it doesn't warrant being hit.
I know many could view this anecdote as simple childhood antics that have little to do with the troubles of the day. But consider what I did in this case: I blamed the victim. Shouldn't I have taught, instead, that there are ways to solve conflict that don't involve physical violence?
We all learn these subtle victim-blaming lessons early, and then we take them along into adulthood.
This is why we grown-ups get caught making excuses in response to tragedies like, "The man shouldn't have run from police." "The woman shouldn't have had a bad attitude." "They shouldn't be out protesting; it incites violence."
None of these "excuses" should result in the absolute end of a person's life. Not just for the victim, but for the victim's friends and family. The perpetrators of violence often get to live on. Their families do not have to process their deaths at the hands of someone else. The perpetrator of violence is not the victim.
We have to start acknowledging victims for who they are, people to whom an injustice has occurred. People to whom justice is due.
So I acknowledge you, Alton Sterling.
I acknowledge you, Philando Castile.
I acknowledge you, Orlando 49.
I acknowledge you, Brent Thompson and the other slain Dallas police officers yet to be identified.
I acknowledge you, all of the victims of violence and all of their loved ones.
But acknowledging is not enough. In our anger and heartache, we must also understand that meeting injustice with further violence rarely gets us anywhere. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated, "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones...Violence ends up defeating itself."
In the days to come, may we have the strength to talk to our children about the insidious nature of violence. May we also teach them about the necessity of both empathizing with and acknowledging victims of injustice, however different from us they may be.