“The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.” The United States Flag Code
Maybe I am the only one wondering “What can I do?” as I watch and read the news. I have a lot of excuses. I can’t go to the protests tonight because my son has a concert. I don’t coordinate the church service and announcements so I can’t control what will and won’t be said. I’m on sabbatical so I won’t be a part of the conversations that I hope will happen between colleagues at meetings next week. But I hope I am not the only one wondering what can be, needs to be, ought to be done.
The videos are chilling – Eric Garner’s life is being choked out of him until he goes limp on the sidewalk and Tamir Rice being gunned down, the police squad door barely opening as the officer drives by. The images of protests and protesters being tear gasses and throwing canisters back at police armed in riot gear remind me of the summer I spent in Korea, marching in protests against US military presence. That was the summer I learned about wearing damp handkerchiefs near my eyes to help with the sting of tear gas and how to wet the wick of a homemade Molotov cocktail before lighting and lobbing. A few years later in a hotel room in Indiana after a job interview I watched protests and riots take over Los Angeles. Living with, wrestling with injustice day in and day out is a bit like a kettle of water just about to hit boiling. At some point, the water boils, the steam is released.
I have changed my profile pictures on Twitter and Facebook to a black and white depiction of the US flag hanging upside down. I chose that image after a friend posted a similar image with the flag code explaining the symbolism.
I became a US citizen in January 2010 after decades of wrestling with the idea of belonging. I immigrated the US in 1971. I was eight months old. I grew up identifying myself as a Korean American even though the American part continues to be questioned most often by white people. It isn’t enought to say I am from Libertyville or Chicago. How could that be when I don’t look “American” is the unspoken, underlying question. I finally decided to act upon the privilege to apply for citizenship and took the oath, pledging allegiance to the flag.
So as people marched in protest, I watched and read. And the image popped up on my Facebook feed. I changed my profile picture because as an American who at some level has chosen allegiance I wanted to show other Americans and Christians who know the power of symbolism that I am utterly disappointed and disgusted by a justice system picks and choses to define and apply justice. I changed my profile picture because the flag is something we see on a daily basis – in front of fast food restaurants and sometimes in our churches, but I don’t often think about the code governing its display. I changed the picture because if your world doesn’t feel like it has been or is turning upside down maybe you aren’t watching carefully enough.
We are in a time of dire distress. The lives of our black brothers and sisters remain in extreme danger.