Protesters, Looters, and Christmas Cookies

First Published December 8, 2014, in Leah's former blog, "Being In Berkeley".

This weekend my city was on fire.  Trash cans and recycle bins were set ablaze as shop windows were shattered and stores were looted.  A highway was overtaken by protesters.  At times, cops responded with tear gas and rubber bullets and batons.  At other times, they stood back and let the drama play out.

Jason and I were not on the streets.  We were not a part of the protests that began peacefully and eventually escalated into the bedlam I just described.  I hardly feel qualified to speak authoritatively about the issues involved, or the goals or agendas of the various parties at the gatherings this weekend which, from all accounts, were mixed.  

But I’m here in Berkeley.  This is my community which, in only six short months of life here, I’ve grown to love.  And while we were not on the streets, but were inside, instead, attending to the realities of parenting young children, we could not help but feel drawn into what was happening all around us.  Last night we were actually holding our weekly gathering of what we’ve affectionately come to call our “baby church” when the sounds of sirens began.  They provided an eerie background as our small group prayed for justice for the marginalized, comfort for the oppressed, and peace for all.  Soon, our dinner was punctuated by the sounds of helicopters circling overhead, clearly quite close, as hundreds of students and community members assembled just a few blocks from our house.

After our meeting adjourned, and our kids were put to bed, Jason and I found ourselves drawn to Twitter, as we began to follow the play-by-play of all that was going down outside.  For the first couple of hours, things seemed peaceful enough, but before too long accounts became more and more disturbing.  We watched as picture after picture showed the streets we frequent every day, mere minutes from our home, strewn with garbage from overturned bins, shattered glass from looted storefronts, and trash can fires.  Altercations broke out between protesters advocating for peaceful demonstration (by most accounts, the vast majority) and those who were intent on wreaking havoc.  A few tweeting protesters noted the irony of these folks violently protesting by breaking the glass doors and windows of the Civic Center on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.  We watched the live feed from the news camera located in one of the choppers circling the skies above us, the sound of which filled our little bedroom.

And there in the midst of it all, I felt the heaviness.  I felt grief.  I felt lament.  I felt the weight of sin on every side.  I felt the despair that leads to violence as a means of giving voice to deeply felt rage and grief.  I felt the frustration with those who felt their demonstration was being co-opted by white anarchists in masks intent on destruction.  I felt grief for those who fear their lives don’t matter to others.  I felt confusion at the ambiguity over the roll of law enforcement in all of it.  I felt grief for the business owners and hourly staff who’d be stuck cleaning up the mess today.  And I felt how much I longed for the same thing Isaiah longed for, how much I was aware of our need for real justice, a real peaceable kingdom, as reflected in the words we’d read just hours before as we lit the Advent candles.

“For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
     and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
     Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
     there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
     and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Today as I drove along Shattuck Avenue, a street that runs through the heart of Berkeley which sustained most of the damage last night, I saw the calm after the storm.  All of the windows were boarded up.  The streets and sidewalks had already been swept.  But the number of boarded up storefronts and graffitied walls was a somber reminder of all that had taken place the night before.  And as I drove the streets, I longed to participate in Jesus’ kingdom coming in this city, that feels, as a whole, mixed in its emotions about all that is transpiring here.

Just one of the many boarded up store fronts that lined Shattuck today.

Just one of the many boarded up store fronts that lined Shattuck today.

So after biking to pick Elliott up from school, we parked our bicycles at the Walgreens a block from his school on our way home.  It’s our local pharmacy and it was one of the stores on Shattuck looted last night.  There, at Walgreens, my kids and I handed out some of the Christmas cookies we had made this weekend to the staff.  “We figured you might be having a hard day.  We just want to say we’re sorry and we hope it gets better,” we said.  Each of the staff members, which were a mix of white, black, and brown faces, looked at me and my kids with surprise, and then softness and smiles of gratitude, as they understood the offer and took a cookie.  It was a very small thing, a tiny thing, really, but it was a real way my kids and I could participate in serving others and spreading something positive in the midst of such darkness.

Tonight the protests are set to continue.  And as we take them in again, I will continue to pray a prayer of longing, amidst lament, which seems to be the cry of so many hearts around the world this Advent.  Come, Lord, Jesus. Come, God of Justice.  Come, Prince of Peace. Come.
For those wanting to learn more about the Berkeley protests, this local new source, Berkeleyside, is a great resource.

Also, I’ve found these resources (amongst many others) helpful on understanding ways to participate as an ally in movements like Black Lives Matter and to make sense of some of the violence we’ve seen around the country as a response to Ferguson.