An Essay Regarding
Compassion and Truth
in the Face of Tragedy in America
By Joseph P. Murray
The other day, I posted something on Facebook expressing my disgust at the comments madeby former Mayor Giuliani regarding the recent deaths of Eric Garner and New York City Police Officers Lu and Ramos. I was disgusted because his commentary, though carrying with it some truth, was, in my opinion, rife with bias and a lack of empathy for the information and people surrounding these tragic events. In that angered state of mind, I wrote some pretty scathing things about the former Mayor, which, in the moment, seemed appropriate in detailing how upset I was. I should probably preface this by letting you know that, as an independent musician and native New Yorker, speaking my mind and being brutally honest with my opinion is something that comes pretty second-nature to me. And so, in this moment of contention and plain old pettiness, I clicked the ‘post’ button, allowing for my social network to revel in – or be reviled by – what I had to say.
To give you some more context, I should also tell you that, while I am a fiercely proud son of a
2nd Generation Irish-American family, I myself am, by ethnic definition, a mixed race Colombian (West African, Native American, and European, to be exact; thank you Ancestry.com), adopted at the tender age of 3 months and transported via a 747 to the neighborhood of Breezy Point. So I’m sure you can see how the events of recent weeks and months have presented, if nothing else, a dichotomous and emotionally complicated terrain for me to cross in my day-to-day life.
After I hid and deleted the post (oh, come on, you knew that was coming), I called my cousin Kevin. Kevin is a proud husband and father of two kids, an Irish Roman Catholic man whose life experiences include time in the New York City Fire Department (his brother is still a member), and, like me, whose extended family consists of many firemen and cops. Upon seeing my post, he proceeded to comment, and, as they say, “read me” for all I was worth. At first, I was extremely upset; how dare a family member, knowing who I am and how I choose to voice my opinion, say that I was “spewing hate” or misappropriating the facts? Didn’t he know that I was a fighter for a noble cause?
Didn’t he understand that there needs to be someone like me to keep the conversation going? At the very least, couldn’t he have used less scatalogical language in his reply? Jeez!
And then I took a moment, and reread what I had written. My God, I thought to myself, this was bad. This was really, really bad. I hid the post, and proceeded with the phone call.
My cousin and I have always had a good relationship. He supports my work as a musician, I provide the comic relief at the family gatherings and holiday get-togethers; it’s a win-win. But in all seriousness, he has been a commendable example of a smart, grounded man from good stock that did right by his parents and built a fine life for himself. On the phone, we spoke of many things, first assuring me that what I had said had not led to a vote of having me excommunicated from my father’s side of the family, and then delving into the premise behind my post. Namely, how to react and assess the tragic deaths of these three men over the past several months, and the virulent social backlash that has flowed from the subsequent news coverage. Tough topics like race-relations, police brutality, the plight of People of Color in America, and how it’s viewed by its civil servants were all discussed; nothing was off the table, and when I hung up an hour or so later, I felt…better? If not better, at least less angry.While there were things we discussed that never saw us seeing eye to eye, one thing that Kevin mentioned that helped throw things back into perspective was his kind, but stern admonishment of my social media presence (and my commentary on current events in general): “be responsible,” he said. “Just try and be more responsible with what you say.”
And he was right. I knew better, being from a family of outstanding civil servants – my father, a retired FDNY captain, my mother and sister, Paraprofessional NYC teachers – that the things the men and women who serve our great city see on a regular basis paint a much larger and comprehensive picture of what really goes on here than most. I know that sometimes that picture isn’t pretty, and so opinions form based on the ugliness that one comes across doing these kinds of jobs. And I know that, just like mine, those opinions are to be respected, because they are based in life experiences that I will most likely never have. I consider myself blessed and very fortunate to live in a city where we have great individuals who take a stand against the things and people of the world who would see it burn before they would sit down and have a conversation.
But I also know that across this country, there are individuals who have never been given the chance to experience those blessings. The reasons behind that are intensely complex, stemming from how the public views the gender/ethnicity/orientation/religion of those people, to how those who take on the job of making or enforcing our laws keep order in the midst of the misunderstandings that arise between individuals. In truth, much of the recent social strife we have seen in our neighborhoods and across the country harbors the residue of a very real enigma that the concepts and verbiage set down in exemplary documents like the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, while touting the noble ideals of freedom and equality, started as an exclusive and selective display of what America was to represent and how she would progress as a nascent nation. This exclusionist policy, which saw the dismissal, subjugation, and/or persecution of groups like the African, the American woman, the
Catholic, the Irish, the Indigenous, the poor…this has been the fulcrum from which some of the most radical progressive change has emerged over the centuries of American history, with these groups, alongside other Americans, tasking those who create and enforce policy to foster inclusion, and to live by the great words set down by this country’s forefathers, as opposed to their own goals or intentions. However, the long-term negative effects of these primary decisions are still present in our society today. It is, in essence, a truth that many find hard to bear, regardless of their stance on the state of American society. We have seen how the pain and anger of those long-term effects has been the premise behind the multiple accounts of loss of life that have been highly publicized by the media, how basic misunderstandings and prejudices have taken away fathers, sons, daughters, mothers, police officers, friends. And we have seen how the public has used these events – as well as the objectionable job being done by the corporate-owned news media in following their stories – to further their bias, their bigotry, and their fear.
For some, it is a fear of authority in the form of law enforcement and our justice system. For others, it is the fear of People of Color in this country, that they are somehow at the root of its violence and the source of its problems. For others still, it is the fear that if we face some of these hard truths, we will somehow be compromising our own sense of order, or worse yet, discredit the honorable words laid down in the Constitution and thereby render forfeit our sense of peace and security. Whatever it is, it is all based in fear, and not in fact, but the fact remains that if we continue on this path of being afraid to change our minds, our outlook, or our understanding, there can be no hope for a peaceful future.So what is the answer to these deep, protruding quandries of the world? How do we fight the bleakness of our own fear? How do we rise above so much hatred, mistrust, violence, and death? The answer is so blessedly simple, but I believe it’s the simplicity of it that makes it so hard to grasp.
I know that by giving that answer, some of you have probably written off everything else I’ve typed, but it is the truth that I’ve come to know. I am certain that I will not be able to pick up a gun and go after the evils of the world; I don’t think I could ever be one of our brave men and women serving our city, or serving in our armed forces, living day to day with the possibility that, because of the career they’ve chosen, they may not come home to their families. But what I also know is that, for many of them, Love is what propels them to take on these arduous and dangerous tasks. Love for their city, their country, their families, and their futures.
The Love that I know, in addition to the unbelievable Love that God has shown me by blessing me with an incredible set of family and friends, is the inconceivable gift of being able to make music. I know I didn’t deserve it, but it was given to me to make better this world that is so full of pain & anger.
It took me a long time to realize that, and so I carry that responsibility with pride and sense of dignity that cannot be compromised by the hatred or misunderstanding of who I am. I use my music to project Love, and the Love I’ve received in return has been unbelievable.
But however you choose to Love, be sure to choose Love. Choose it over hatred, or prejudices, or xenophobia. Choose to Love knowledge, instead of feeding your head with misinformation fed to us by the media; seek out the Truth, do research, get the whole story before making a judgment call, especially with tragic events such as these. Choose to Love peace, instead of being consigned to the idea ingrained in our history that the only way we can achieve it is through violence and death. But choose to show Love and respect to all our exceptional officers and soldiers who do their job in a manner that upholds our Constitution without compromising the rights of the people. Choose to Love progress that fosters positive change and the spread of justice for all people. The best part about choosing Love is that it allows you to show support for the best of these things, as opposed to having to take one side of an issue. As someone who has been purposely riding the fence of topics like social justice and system reform, I encourage others to do the same. You can support good cops and denounce police brutality. You can be against political corruption and still appreciate the American political process. You can protest economic disenfranchisement and still be an active consumer of ethically sound products. You can mourn the loss of victims of violent crime, even if they themselves were viewed as criminals. We have to do away utterly with this narrative of, “if you’re not for us, you’re against us.” It has proven to foster nothing except further civil unrest. We have to err on the side of compassion, instead of being cautionary with it in these days and times. The more we can celebrate our differences as well as our similarities, the closer we get towards the still-out-of reach goal of World Peace.
I hope this serves as a reminder of the work we have to do as children of God to find ways to come together. I still believe it can be done; I have to believe that. If I didn’t believe such a goal was attainable, I never would’ve taken down that post, or spoken with my cousin. But I did, and we talked, and it really reminded me that with some responsibility and a whole lot
“Where there is Love, there is no fear.”
–Dr. Barbara Ann Teer
Joseph P. Murray is an aspiring musician and social commentator. Check out his website: pmurraymusic.com and follow him on Twitter: @pmurraymusic.