Have you seen the video? A line of cops faced a crowd of protesters in Portland, Oregon. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. This time, no one used tear gas or rubber bullets. This time, the cops did not bull their way forward to force the crowd to recoil in fear. This time, it was different. Facing the crowd, motionless and silent, the cops offered a simple gesture: they knelt to the ground on one knee. And they remained there. It took my breath away and released a deep reservoir of tears.
As the cops maintained their dignified silence, the crowd of protesters erupted with thunderous applause. We recall the other images, the angry confrontations, the tear gas, people being chased, wrestled to the ground and handcuffed. These other disturbing images underscored the shock of watching a line of kneeling cops being applauded by a crowd of protesters. People in the crowd shouted their appreciation: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”, while the general applause continued. In my mind’s eye, these cops became a line of beautiful dancers kneeling on stage, receiving exuberant tribute after a magnificent performance. And then a tall young African American man, stepped forward and turned to face the crowd before kneeling with the cops, his arm extended upward, fist clenched. Given the recent barbarous act of murder in Minneapolis and the violent nights that ensued, it was astonishing to witness a young African American man expressing his solidarity with the police.
A simple physical gesture, more eloquent and forceful than tear gas or rubber bullets, transformed the entire mood. Without a spoken word, these cops revealed they were appalled and outraged too. And in this moment, the dividing line between cops and protesters was immediately and completely obliterated. In this moment, neither group viewed the other side as an “enemy”, as a force to be overcome or dominated. In this moment, cops and protesters simply expressed their shared humanity.
Joined together, cops and protesters, in a gorgeous call and response, turned a potential confrontation into a profound celebration. A celebration that occurred in many places around the country. Through my tears, I wondered why it remained so difficult for us to articulate the underlying truth about ourselves: in this unprecedented moment, we shared the same anxiety, rage and grief. Why was it so hard to acknowledge that we need each other now more than ever? The simple act of taking a knee enabled those Portland cops to pierce the veil, to transform a nondescript street corner into sacred ground. Their remarkable gesture summoned the grace that surrounds us everywhere, each and every moment, if we can muster the courage to see it.
Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano