For the fourth of July, my family went to Waukegan to see the fireworks over Lake Michigan. We live in Gurnee and have always eavesdropped on Six Flags’ fireworks, watching from outside the park. This was our first time navigating an Independence Day crowd.
When we got there, we drove around to check out where we could park and wound up in a big, mostly empty lot. Someone else was unloading a folding chair and cooler from his truck, so my husband walked over to ask his advice about the parking.
Turns out we were in a fine spot.
Our new friend, a middle-aged white man, gathered all his stuff and walked up to our car to keep chatting. He told us he’s lived in Waukegan all his life, that there is “so much opportunity here,” that he went to Waukegan public schools and he loves his hometown.
I don’t remember what words he used that gave me this impression, but he seemed to be making a speech in defense of Waukegan. The fact that we drove over from Gurnee — the wealthier neighbor suburb — might have prompted his speech. As in, don’t be afraid of Waukegan! Come see us again!
We spent the next 3 hours sitting by the marina, walking the breakwater, kicking a soccer ball around. The kids sitting next to us shared their sparklers with my kids.
The fireworks show was impressive and generous. It was about 45 minutes long and my kids were VERY IMPRESSED. It was great.
We walked back to our car in the line of families carrying chairs and tired children. We had to cross one intersection, managed by a police officer, to get to our car. The crowd was pretty quiet but I heard a man yelling angrily near us.
I looked up and saw it was a black man, and though I couldn’t hear everything he said I could tell he was complaining. All I heard was “He ain’t black, so you’re not gonna go after him.”
It turns out that a white man on a motorcycle rode through the intersection ignoring the police officer’s instruction to stop. Our sidewalk neighbor was complaining about the injustice of breaking the rule AND getting away with it.
It seems unlikely to me that the police would have chased a black motorcyclist doing the same thing. It was just one officer standing in the intersection directing traffic. What could he have done?
BUT. But. It seems unlikely to me because I trust the police. My experience has taught me that the police are helpful and make the world safer.
Clearly my sidewalk neighbor does not trust the police. He thinks the police regularly pursue black people and overlook the illegal behavior of white people. I imagine his experience has taught him that.
Seek justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God.
One piece of walking humbly with God is listening humbly to my neighbor. Like me, the white man who grew up in Waukegan and feels compelled to defend the worth of his community is created in the image of God.
Like me, the black man who is skeptical about whether the police force acts justly is created in the image of God.
If I want to know my neighbor I need to listen to him. If I want to know God I need to listen to my neighbors.
A final note regarding the police presence at the Waukegan fireworks: My husband told me later that he’d seen an officer deal with some teenagers who were illegally lighting their own fireworks. The officer confiscated their fireworks and then joined in their ball game for a while.
A beautiful example of justice and kindness in real life.