The world right now is in chaos. It is hard to look at anything and not feel anger, hatred, the desire to scream, to fight something even if we aren’t sure what that is. The police? The politicians? Rioters? White supremacists? Communists? Who? What?
Today, Dave Chappelle released a 27-minute long special that, in my opinion, is the work of a genius. His anger is palpable, his words are poignant, and his calls to action, and warnings of the consequences, are strong. Before I get into his special, the climate as a whole needs to be addressed.
Black Lives Matter.
For those that know me, I have been outspoken and loud about police reform for years. This is not me hopping on a trend or virtue signaling, as I may be called out for. I have dealt with their violence, and their childish bravado many times, and it would be irresponsible if not completely contrarian to my integrity that I should not support black lives matter and the agenda of reform however so I may do it. And so I do: I devoutly support black lives matter. It is our moral obligation as brothers and sisters in this country, if we are to save it, to SCREAM that BLACK LIVES MATTER and to demand actionable change.
But I believe we are stumbling upon a tipping point, one that is unrecoverable and one that must be considered with the absolute sheerest of trepidation and caution:
The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back.
The murder of George Floyd sent this country over the edge. Rage permeates through every level of society, at different intensities and directions. A free state in Seattle was declared, with absolutely zero consistent reporting coming from the area. The right has disassociated from the left. Threats of terrorism are everywhere. Protestors appeared in droves on the White House lawn, prompting the President to be escorted by secret police for a photo op with heavy weapons.
In the midst of it all, police are being killed along with more civilians. Police reform is sweeping the nation, with Iowa passing restrictions on chokeholds and officer review and Kentucky passing laws on no-knock warrants. Is it enough? Most importantly, when is it justified to fight?
The War on Terror, At Home.
In my time as an adult, I have become incredibly familiar with war. I have seen it on screens as an analyst, where ISIS and al-Qaeda murdered people wholesale. I’ve dissected it at university in classes about rhetoric, and about history, and about its moral atrocity. I have seen it in person during the Arab Spring in Bahrain when bodies washed up on shore and government officers were torn apart by homemade explosives and shaped charges.
I have seen its affects on survivors of war, both refugees and combat veterans. I have lost several friends to suicide, and I have friends who came to Iowa as survivors of conflicts in Bosnia, Egypt, Libya, Somalia, and Mexico. Some of my very close family friends were survivors of the genocides in Rwanda.
In all of it, I never saw justification. I saw hate, I saw fear, I saw death. There was no God, there was no humanity. During the Boston marathon bombing, the first time I ever worked as a real analyst on a developing situation at 19 years old, I saw children shredded by nails and ball-bearings, limbs tossed around like mannequin pieces. I saw nothing of goodness, nothing of valor.
That is what war looks like at home. No matter how you view the Tsarnaev brothers: they viewed themselves as warriors.
8 Minutes, 46 Seconds.
And so we get to Dave Chappelle’s words in his newest special, “8:46.” The title comes from the length of time that George Floyd had a knee on his neck by Officer Derek Chauvin before losing his life.
In the special he looks at the myriad of violent incidents springing up around this country. He looks to Chris Dorner, an African-American former police officer that wrote a manifesto declaring Chappelle a genius before going on a killing spree of police officers. Chris Dorner killed 4 police officers, and was met by 400 police officers in Big Bear where he was killed in California.
Chappelle notes that the response was proportionate to the anger the LAPD felt at losing their own. Then he asks the question:
How do they not understand our rage at losing thousands of our own to the police?
In 27-minutes, Chappelle tears through the history of violence in our country. He recounts the killings of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, the eventual lead up to the killings of 9 police officers in Baton Rouge before the police retaliated again. Then the uprisings in Minneapolis and across the country, and the perpetual cycle of violence.
All of the police killings he mentioned shared a common theme: the murderers were all African-American servicemen. Why is that? Chappelle believes that like all servicemembers who have joined since 9/11, it has been to fight acts of terror.
All Enemies, Foreign and Domestic.
And the police are painting themselves as terrorists.
In 2013 I attended the award ceremony of the Marines who fought bravely during the 2012 Camp Bastion attack that resulted in the single largest loss of U.S. aircraft since the Vietnam War. The Marines awarded were not infantry. They were aircraft mechanics, maintainers, and refuelers. But when terrorists came crashing through those gates with RPG’s, machine guns, and AK-47’s, they grabbed their rifles and laid down lethal fire against an unknown enemy in the blackness of an Afghani night. They did not question their ability to win that battle: they recognized the intense need to fight to defend not themselves, but each other, and victory was the only option.
That is where the heroism I saw in war was. There was no Hollywood glamour. It was terror, it was hate, it was the fierce devotion to life and safety that meant putting oneself in the way of harm to prevent it happening upon your brothers or sisters. Is that where we are now?
Chappelle calls out to America at the end of his performance that the streets must do the talking and people must keep acting, because it is the “last stronghold of civic discourse.” He says after this, it is just shooting with no talking.
Those Who Forget History…
This rhetoric has been seen before, and it is alarming. The anger feels good, the rage feels good, it feels like things are going to change.
But the streets have gotten a taste for the violence that the state is capable of. The improper use of rubber bullets, the overwhelming gassing that has caused deaths, the flashbangs and the shootouts from Louisville to L.A.
War and violence in the streets will lead to horrors you can not imagine. We need to listen to Chappelle, we need to keep that civil discourse open. We need to allow for people to talk and understand each other again.
It will be easier now to learn about each other’s point of view than try to rush your family to the safety of the countryside as your loved ones bleed to death under police and soldiers boots under martial law.
It will be easier now to ally yourselves with people of different opinion than to pull your wives and husbands out from the rubble of your bombed-out home.
It will be easier now to accept diversity than to accept death as a part of everyday life.
The Eyes of the World are Upon US.
We are privileged, most of us, in that war is an “over there” foreign concept that doesn’t live here. But some of us remember the Arab Spring. ISIS was once thought to be an exaggerated rumor that couldn’t exist because no group can be that cruel.
If the citizens of Rome knew it was going to burn, they would have left.
It is upon us to face this threat with resilience, firmness, and courage to do what is just. When this is over, the growing pains may resonate for a while, but at least we will still have our country. If we give in to primal aggression, tribalism, and hate: we will not.
Before we talk of war and revolution, we absolutely constantly remind ourselves of the unholy abomination that it brings with it. We must remember that we do not want war.