Bethel has been an increasingly divided community, divided by politics, by economics, by the needs and wants of various interests for a share of the town's tax revenue, by the restrictions placed in response to the current pandemic. And now by protests sparked over the death of George Floyd two weeks ago in Minneapolis, killed during an arrest by a police officer now facing murder charges.
The protests in Bethel have been peaceful and organized, so far, but calls for violence in local social media posts, provocative graffiti at Town Hall and escalations of protests in nearby communities have given many in the community pause.
Many groups throughout our nation's history have been subject to disenfranchisement, violence and discrimination. This ranges from Irish in the late 18th Century, Italians in the late 19th Century, Germans, Japanese and Jews in the 20th Century. And of course people of color from before our nation's founding.
In recent weeks some have taken the words of a 20th Century visionary leader assassinated for his work to bring us together and twisted them to mean things that they clearly do not. We offer one passage from a speech he made in 1958 as a guidepost for how we might all navigate these troubled times:
"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
â€" Dr. Martin Luther King
The point Dr. King is making is that violence causes violence, from either end of the spectrum.
Oppression leads to riots. Riots lead to violent response. That leads to more riots. It creates a viscous circle. To effectively break the cycle, the causes need to be addressed. This is true for all groups that feel oppressed. But it is also true that the willingness to openly contemplate the issue diminishes with each violent outburst. It's human nature.
American colonists rioted and rebelled because they were not being heard back in London and were being brutalized by British troops and a rigged economic and political system. It ultimately lead to a war.
Dr. King also said "These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard."
Some have tried to hijack this passage from a 4,100 word speech to mean an endorsement of violence. Dr. King is not advocating or promoting violence in this speech, and yes, we have read the entire speech and encourage our readers to, as well. Dr. King gave this speech in 1968 at Grosse Pointe. He was explaining to people who did not understand why their cities were literally being set on fire. Over 50 years ago. Over the same set of issues erupting again today.
We do not approve of violence to resolve problems, but we do understand why anger boils over, and why crushing it without addressing it only guarantees yet more violence. And militant overreach on either side of this issue only entrenches the opposing view.
We need to have honest discussions about this issue and other issues facing our community.
It's clear that a lot of people in Bethel feel marginalized and oppressed, and that that is news to a lot of their neighbors.
We continue to embrace our role as the community's newspaper to work hard to tell the whole story of Bethel. We invite community members from all parts of our community to share stories of your experiences in the hope that as we use knowledge to bridge these divides we can come together as a community with common purpose, ensuring the prosperity of all our neighbors in peaceful coexistence.
So, we can continue to be angry with each other over deep misunderstandings going back many generations, or we can work together to find common ground and peacefully start solving these and other issues.
It has to start somewhere. Why not here, now, in Bethel, which after all means "a holy place"?