By J. Hogan
-Gains & Gleanings-
I don’t know Dante Whitbeck. Never met him, never interacted with him. I didn’t know his late cousin Anthony Huber, either.
I suspect most of the folks across this nation don’t know them, and had never heard of Huber before he died very publicly on a street in Kenosha, Wis.
I first heard of Whitbeck when he posted a picture of Huber on Facebook and wrote “Found out today that my cousin Anthony Huber’s life was taken last night in the Kenosha protests. He was one of the good guys. Rest in Peace Anthony Huber.”
The post was shared widely, not because of its content, but because of the firestorm in the comment section that followed.
Immediately people were challenging Whitbeck’s assessment of his cousin as a “good guy” and pointing out that he had twice hit the 17-year-old who killed him in the head with a skateboard.
Others chimed in to chastise strangers for barging into Whitbeck’s grief with their disparaging comments, some stating that those who did so should be killed or end up in hell.
Then pictures of the dying Huber, holding his bleeding chest, turned into memes with embedded statements like “What happens when you bring a skateboard to a gunfight” and a superimposed, mocking picture of Jon Bon Jovi at the microphone with the words “Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame.”
I saw this, and closed the thread, thinking “What is wrong with us?”
It’s not one-sided. Lebron James said the same day that he believed the police officer whose decision to fire on Jacob Blake started the uproar in Kenosha probably woke up that day thinking he was going to kill some black man that day.
That’s ridiculous. I know police officers who’ve been involved in shooting someone. None of them are glad it happened. All feel regret, even if their actions were deemed necessary.
We’ve allowed the fiery passions of division to take hold and drive us to the point where our humanity is lacking when we can’t allow an anonymous person to grieve the loss of a family member without mocking the dead in their face or ridiculing their thoughts about their loved one.
There are genuinely evil forces out there that love to see us at one another’s throat, tearing apart the fabric of community in our towns and shredding the ties that bind us together, and they’re thrilled with what’s going on.
It’s not, however, unfixable.
Most of this stuff exists in the callous emotional vacuum of cyberspace, fueling and fueled by busses of angry coordinated interlopers shipped into cities to feed chaos and destruction when the opportunity to capitalize on a place’s trauma arises.
In other words, this is not community self-destruction. Neighbors are still helping one another, still looking out for one another, still loving one another… because face-to-face, compassion still thrives. It’s only when we create the distant “them” in our mind that compassion tends to die.
All summer this year, Faithbridge held Community in Unity cookouts, seven of them in all, and the black, the brown, the white, the young and the old turned out to laugh together, to break bread together, to listen to Motown and dance together. It was beautiful.
It can be beautiful across this nation if we remember that our fabric is stitched together community after community… and we make sure each of our communities remembers that, at that level, it’s love that knits us to one another. We can’t lose sight of compassion then.
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.