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Protesters vs. rioters

The American divide today is a crisis many in my country would prefer to ignore. Or at least not talk about.

Many seem to believe that if we just don’t talk about it, it will go away.

I used to hear this same belief on the part of folks who thought talking about suicide might cause someone to actually do it. Change the subject. Smell the roses. Bring up something more positive to look forward to. Which then usually means trying to impose their own dreams upon others, as if that might magically work somehow.

It doesn’t.

Talking about our divide won’t cause it. Talking about more positive things won’t end it. Even sharing our own dreams for a better future won’t end it. Our own dreams do not often translate into someone else’s.

And that is perhaps the most critical difference between those in America today who are protesting and those today who are rioting.

Rioting is what we do when we have no dreams of our own.

Dreams require tomorrows. Tomorrows require dreams. Remove either one and you remove the other one. Want some names to explain what I mean here? Aura Rosser. Akai Gurley. Botham Jean. Tanisha Fonville. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Michelle Cousseaux. Freddie Gray. Alton Sterling. Philando Castille. Stephon Clark. Atatiana Jefferson. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. There are hundreds more where these names come from. But you get the picture.

Starting to see a pattern here?

Every name above, and many more unnamed, were unarmed black Americans killed by white American police officers. End of tomorrows. And end of dreams for themselves, their families, and so many others like them.

Take away our tomorrows and dreams, or those of our loved ones, and then what happens?

With nothing left to lose, all hell breaks loose in our human minds and we become so very angry within our own loss and grief that we are apt to strike out in any direction with any amount of destruction. Our conversational self-talk goes something like this: “I’ve lost everything. And if I have to lose everything, all I can do is make sure someone else feels the same way.” In our loneliest, emptiest place of pain, we seek the companionship of someone else who’s also lost their dreams. Their tomorrows. And so we have rioters. The pages of human history are filled with them, in every age and in every place. Rioting is the language of extreme loss. Loss of dreams. Loss of tomorrows. Loss of companionship.

Loss of hope.

Protesting is different. Protesters have something more to lose, and they know it. They still have hope. Still have their tomorrows and dreams, but they protest against those evil powers and principalities of darkness that would deprive themselves or others of their tomorrows and their dreams. Protesters understand that if they, or others, should ever lose their tomorrows and dreams, rioting is the physical power they have left.

Protesters are America’s last hope for preventing rioters. Protesters are voicing this unspoken message to America: If you want to stop the riots, then stop the loss of our / their tomorrows and dreams! Stop taking away hope.

But if protesters are the last hope for preventing riots, what is the first hope? What is it that not only acts against the evil powers and principalities of darkness that would rob people of their tomorrows and dreams, but that acts for the forces of goodness and justice and freedom that give people more tomorrows and more dreams? And who are these who are working not just to prevent more losses but to contribute more gains?


Voters in free and fair elections who have the power to give themselves and others more tomorrows and more dreams are America’s first and very best hope. Remove them and there will be no other hope of preventing rioters apart from our protesters.

Whenever America subtracts voters, they add protesters. Whenever America subtracts protesters, they add rioters.

And if America fails to figure out the divide between rioters and protesters? Then we may as well start talking about America’s suicide.

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