Monday evening, as televisions and computer screens showed image after image of destruction in Baltimore, my Facebook newsfeed filled up with them too. Friends and family expressed anger, fear, embarrassment, regret, sadness – all very natural responses to the events taking place in “our” city.
But along with those responses came one awful word, again and again: “Animals!” “The animals.” “Those animals.” “They are animals.”
I scrolled past post after post of people calling other people animals.
(By the way, if you’re wondering whether I’m thinking of you in particular as I write this – I’m not. I saw so many posts I can’t begin to remember who wrote what.)
There are any number of things one might call the rioters. You might call them idiots. You might call them criminals. You might call their actions shameful or opportunistic or simply wrong. Baltimore’s mayor called them thugs.
But you shouldn’t deny that they’re people.
The rioters are not animals. They are people who think and feel and sin and help and hurt. They are complicated. They are capable of great love and terrible evil. Each and every one of them is made in the image and likeness of God. Each and every one is inherently valuable.
Because they are human.
When you call people animals, you buy into the lie that human life is cheap. You judge people’s worth by their utility, by their sinfulness, by their actions in a short, defined period of time.
When you call people animals, you feed anger and mistrust and hate.
And to be honest, when you call a crowd of black people animals, you hearken to a time when society really did – culturally and legally – view blacks as less than human.
So call out the rioters for the harm they’re doing to the City of Baltimore. Say that it’s unacceptable to steal and destroy. Say that it’s mind-bogglingly foolish to cut fire hoses. Say that it’s disgusting to throw bricks and cinder blocks at people.
Say you’re angry. Say they’re wrong. Say that this whole thing is a big, embarrassing mess. Debate thuggery, police violence, gang violence, and racism.
But don’t deny anyone’s humanity. Don’t call people animals.
The term is unworthy of them – and it’s unworthy of you too.