THE MARSHALL PLAN: Inner peace in a cast

Culpeper Times columnist Marshall Conner

In the first few minutes of the George Floyd arrest video, there was cruelty and abuse of power. The calm familiarity of soon-to-be fired Minneapolis Policeman Derek Chauvin’s plan of action was sadly apparent.  

The killing of Floyd was a disgrace to humanity. This was a murder on video, recorded by witnesses encircling the arrest scene, complete with requests for air, multiple pleas for mercy and sadly a call for his mother. Then silence … of the most terrible kind as an ambulance crew arrived and lifted his limp body onto a stretcher.  

This viral abuse of power raked claws of distrust across open wounds inflicted over many years on minority communities. It should anger us all. 

These murderers stained the trust in many good law enforcement professionals.

I have lived long enough and witnessed enough to know the level of hurt that dwells in many hearts — mostly those outside the prevailing power structure. I hope that someday we can evolve and finally put humanity before hate. Until that day this is what we will see. 

The nation was unanimously disgusted by Floyd’s death.

In the days to follow outrage fermented into rage … into destruction and looting. This, in turn, led to drastic police responses. The major cities and the White House grounds began to resemble a nightmare for our nation. Political parties, criminal opportunists and media capitalized on the chaos.

In recent days, the protests have become more peaceful, even though the outrage remains fresh. 

In Culpeper, at least two protests made me extremely proud of the town where I work — they included all. I wrote this response to a few people who assume they know about towns like Culpeper.   

“Why don't all the self-proclaimed media elites, political leaders, law enforcement and protestors look at the town that I stand shoulder-to-shoulder alongside? Culpeper listens to each other, it gives space and respect to its protesters. It stands in unity. It refused to be divided. It will overcome and grow together. They prayed together. This is how it can be done, America.”

I think the takeaway over the last three weeks has been a realization that we all make too many assumptions about other human beings. This is really the root of the problem.  

Hearing each other out is always the best solution. 

As the son of an Army paratrooper officer, I grew up believing it was “green” against the world.              My diverse circle of Army kids included all shades with a wide range of countries of origin — we were a proud and feisty melting pot of Americans.  

One memory from my childhood was of a tall African-American captain who walked into a room like a superhero. He was my closest friend’s father. He used to come home from work in his Green Beret and toss the football with my band of friends. His words were always encouraging, and his life seemed to be an embodiment of the motto of the Green Berets, “De Oppresso Liber.” Translated from Latin it means, “to liberate the oppressed."

I was devastated to hear that he died in a parachute accident years later. He remains heroic in my mind.  

Years later, when I wore an Army uniform, I remember being shocked when a group of my friends (all of us servicemen) walked through a parking lot in Missouri in civilian clothes and local people locked their car doors when my black friends walked by.  

I said, “What’s that all about?”  

My friend said, “It has happened all my life.” There was hurt in his voice. 

I have always been uncomfortable around racism. 

I am proud that my parents never taught it. My parents were both intelligent, empathic, open-minded and patriotic. They were quick to point out that our nation will always be a work in progress. 

My father was an incredible historian who often explained the world to me in historical terms — he told me about Jonathan M. Daniels, an clergyman and graduate of the Virginia Military Institute who sacrificed his life to defend a black teenager in 1965. He spoke in detail of the thousands of Union soldiers white and black who gave their lives to end slavery in the Civil War. He told me about the 54th Massachusetts, later portrayed in the Oscar-winning film Glory. He told me about the bravery of the Harlem Hell Fighters in WWI and the courage of the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII fame. My father never restricted my life experiences and often pointed out that life was/is often unfair to Americans of color.  

One of my lifelong friends, Damon Edwards, summed up the blight of racism well in recent weeks. He said, “Being born black in America is a misdemeanor waiting on a felony.” He is biracial, a veteran and an exceptionally brilliant stand-up comedian. He marched in a protest and had this to say, “People are angry and upset, but Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’” Edwards added, “I do not want any kind of racial war. I am Black and White. I am not fighting myself! If we choose to divide in hate, we will die as a nation. Rise up with love, peace and understanding.”


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