September 21 is the United Nations International Day of Peace and Global Ceasefire – Peace Day. It is a day that reminds us of the hope of humankind to make a world where everyone lives a life of sustenance and joy. Peace Day coincides with the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly, but it is also a day when ordinary people do various acts and things to promote peace. Yet, every year, Peace Day dawns with some awful tragic reality to remind us of how far we have to go to arrive at the goal of peace.
On Tuesday afternoon, September 20, Keith Lamont Scott, 43, was sitting in his S.U.V minding his own business. Police who were on the scene attending to another matter say they saw him rolling what seemed to be a marijuana blunt with a gun on the front seat. When Scott exited the S.U.V., police say he had a gun and did not follow their commands. Despite his wife who was on the scene telling the police that Scott was unarmed, that he was not dangerous, that he suffered from traumatic brain injury and had just taken his medication, the situation escalated to where Scott was shot and killed by the police. He was another in a long line of African-American men who had been shot and killed by the police under questionable circumstances.
Peace Day saw protests in the street of Charlotte, North Carolina. Protestors wanted the police to release video tapes so that the public could see what happened to Mr. Scott. The night of Peace Day, during the demonstrations, 23-year-old Justin Carr was fatally wounded. There was blood on the street in Charlotte, North Carolina on Peace Day.
When we see only the blood on the street, we see the essential liquid of a living being. We cannot tell just by looking from which of the animal species it comes. When we only see the blood on the street, we do not know if it is police blood or protestor blood. We do not know whether the bleeding body was black or white or brown or yellow or red; whether the person was Muslim or Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or atheist; whether the person was young or old, male or female, transsexual or pansexual; whether the person was rich or poor. We do not know if the blood is related to us. There is no party affiliation or class distinction evident in a pool of blood on the street. All of the things that would make us hate a person, that would make us want to kill a person are gone. There is nothing left in a pool of blood, but the life force wasted, something to be washed away and forgotten or remembered with either the will to revenge or the will to forgive.
Why am I thinking and writing about a pool of blood in Charlotte, North Carolina when blood flows in rivers in Aleppo, Syria, in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, in cities, town, and villages all over the globe? I do not know. All of the injury and death and the hatred and fear that cause them are so very utterly pointless and unnecessary. The essence of humanity is not only the human blood flowing through human veins, but it is the capacity for rational thought, the capacity for abstract thought where we may contemplate the meaning of symbols that leads to decision-making about the future.
Peace Day exists to remind us that we can decide. It exists to remind us of the goals that humankind have agreed through the United Nations to pursue. The first set of goals for the new millennium included an end to poverty, more education, and sustainable economic development across the globe. The results have been mixed with some countries making substantial progress and others hardly any progress at all.
In 2015, the world crafted a new set of 17 goals. Goal #16 states: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”
The reason the blood in the street in Charlotte, North Carolina on Peace Day made me stop was because the protestors were asking for justice and a police force that would be accountable and transparent in its investigation of the killing of Keith Lamont Scott. The police exist to protect and to serve, but for too many citizens of the United States and other countries the police force is neither effective not accountable. This particular millennial goal reminds us that where there is no justice, there can be no peace.
Shortly after Peace Day, Shimon Peres, the last living founder of Israel, died. We were reminded of just how difficult peacemaking, peacebuilding, and peacekeeping are. A powerful hurricane has caused devastation in one of the poorest nations on earth, Haiti, and caused damage and disruption in the richest nation. The campaign for the presidency of the United States has devolved into a sickening, disgusting miasma of revelations of salacious conversations, accusations, conspiracy theories, and calls for a return to basic human decency. The bright shining hope of every Peace Day seems far, far away.
The blood on the street, the blood soaking into every inch of earth where it is spilled in violent conflict cries out to us to see and to feel and to know its concrete reality, to recognize the essence and the responsibility of our humanity, to dream a world with eyes wide open, to build a world of justice and of peace.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation”