Sunday, July 26, 2015

Excellent teachers

A powerful image emerged last week from a day of protests outside the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia. The protests all centered around the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. On one side of the barriers set up by law enforcement officers, marched an assortment of white supremacist groups including representatives of the KKK and The National Socialist Movement, on the other side an assortment of people protesting the protesters.

A photograph snapped from a smartphone showed an African American state trooper helping an elderly white supremacist protester who was on the verge of collapsing due to heat exhaustion. It turned out the officer was no rank and file trooper, he was Leroy Smith, the director of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. He put himself in uniform and on duty that day, as is his custom, because he likes to show his employees that he "has their backs."

Smith's attention was directed to the ailing protester by the fire chief of Columbia, who also happens to be black. Smith grabbed the man, (who was wearing a Nazi-style swastika emblazoned on his tee shirt), by the arm and led him up the steps and into the air conditioned statehouse. The two were followed by a woman also wearing a swastika, who kept asking Smith if the man was going to be alright.

I can't speak for Mr. Smith, I can only assume what was going through his head at the time was that he was simply doing his job by helping out a fellow human being who was in trouble. I can say he was amazed at the overwhelming positive response the photograph received worldwide, When asked about what he felt generated that response, his answer was simple: "love."

Like the families of the victims of the Emanuel AME Church massacre who forgave their loved ones' killer, I believe that Mr. Smith's actions, and even more so his response, is not sending out a signal of acceptance, submission or weakness, far from it. His is a powerful message of strength by looking directly into the face of hatred and saying no, you have no power to make me hate you back. 

One look at the photograph of the powerful Smith helping the pathetic marcher, and you cannot help be overwhelmed by the feeling that love wins.

We all have much to learn from these magnificent people.

No comments: