One of my favorite scenes from almost any film is at the end of the Battle of Helm’s Deep, from The Two Towers. They’ve retreated from the walls, and you can feel the hope fading. You feel the same shocked horror as Eowyn when she realizes the end is coming, and coming quickly. When everything seems to be at its most dark and desperate, King Théoden looks at Aragorn, frozen, shocked, despairing.
We’re approaching the end of a horrific week, and at times I feel like we’re facing an unending, teeming horde of Uruk-Hai– but instead of facing a concrete enemy with clattering armor and raised swords, the evil we’re fighting is systemic. Police brutality, like the Uruk-Hai, is just one manifestation of the evil the One Ring represents: the temptation in all men to possess power.
On days like today, I’m reminded of why I originally named my blog Defeating the Dragons. I was referencing a Neil Gaiman paraphrase of a G. K. Chesterton quote:
Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist,
but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.
I was reminded of it yesterday as I witnessed white people all over social media ask Théoden’s question: what can men do against such reckless hate? There was despair and hopelessness- helplessness. The police have killed 566 people this year– that we know of– and 2016 is barely half over. When a problem is this big, what can we do? When it’s seemingly in every state, in every justice department, in every police force, in every prison?
But, Théoden’s crushing despair isn’t the answer in this scene. The answer is delivered through Aragorn, who isn’t removed, isn’t separate, from Théoden’s fate. He meets Théoden’s eyes unflinchingly and says “Ride out with me.” Théoden assumes that Aragorn is envisioning a last ride of blazing glory, but Aragorn contradicts him: “For Rohan. For your people.”
Of course, the audience knows what Théoden doesn’t– that Gandalf told Aragorn “Look to my coming at first light on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the east.” Aragorn is trusting Gandalf to pull some miracle out of his robes, but Theodan isn’t aware of that.
Today, we need to be Théoden listening to Aragorn. To ignore our feelings of helplessness that could push us into desensitization and apathy. We could try to retreat through the passage into the mountains– or we can ride out for our people. Apathy and helplessness are beckoning, I won’t deny it– especially since, as white people, it’s not just possible but easier for us to pretend like the Uruk-Hai and the malice of Sauron isn’t a real threat to anyone. If we’re not Théoden, in the trenches at Helm’s Deep, we could be any one of the blissfully ignorant nations who believes that Saruman the White is just some puttering old wizard who mostly just hangs out in his tower. Him, trying to destroy Rohan? That’s laughable!
Turns out, though, that’s exactly what him and Wormtongue want us to believe. Empire and its oppressive power wants us to remain apathetic, is trying to convince us it’s not really our problem. Alton Stirling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland— aren’t they just minor aberrations and not worth getting ourselves worked up about? They probably did something to deserve it anyway. As long as the only people the police are routinely gunning down don’t look like me, then our police force acting like something out of a post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare is fine. Our lives are comfortable, unruffled by the constant fear of the police. They’re our thin line of blue, after all– the ones sworn to protect and serve. They couldn’t possibly be burning down an entire forest to forge weapons and turning Orthanc into a war machine.
It’s our responsibility to banish Wormtongue– his lies and his apathy– from our holds. To listen to Aragorn even when it seems hopeless. I won’t make false promises– maybe it is hopeless. But I choose to believe that nothing is truly hopeless unless we let it be, that evil can only win if good men do nothing.
In this extended metaphor of a post, as white people in a country with a militarized police force and a racist legal system, we’re not actually Théoden and his men. I know it seems like we’re the ones facing a monstrous force working to crush us, but we’re not. We’re not the ones fighting for our lives against the Uruk-Hai, struggling to hold out for just one more day, one more dawn.
We’re the Rohirrim. We’re the ones with the power to do something. It’s against everything good and just that we have this power in our hands, but we have it. But we have to show up– we have to be there at dawn on the fifth day, willing to face the Uruk-Hai when we could have been running away and pretending that the fate of Helm’s Deep has nothing to do with us. Without us, Théoden falls. Without us standing up for the people of color who are our sisters and brothers and siblings, our fellow children of God, then Helm’s Deep is lost.
They can’t fight this battle on their own. They need us.
So, practically, what does this look like, since of course it’s not going to be one glorious moment of us rushing downhill in a single magnificent charge. Maybe we’ll have those victories, but it’s not just the Uruk-Hai. It’s not just Saruman. Those are only puppets, really, symptoms. But, we have to start somewhere.
First, start with educating yourself. Acknowledge that as a white person you do benefit from a racist system. Keep educating yourself. Stay aware, and pay attention. Listen to people of color about their experiences. Cultivate a mind and heart that responds with compassion and grief.
Then, look into what needs to be done to reform our police forces. Get involved, and listen to brown and black people about where you should direct your energies and focus. When it comes to the police, local government is crucial. Delve into the histories of the people who serve as your judges, your sheriff, your mayor. Research the histories of those running for those positions and hold them accountable. Vote, vote, vote, vote, vote. Communicate with your city councils, your district attorneys. Call your state senators and representatives and make it clear that police reform is a priority for you, their constituent.
If you can, see if you can get involved in politics– and that doesn’t necessarily mean running for public office. You can work to make sure police reform is a part of your party’s platform on the state level. You can meet up with the local Democratic or Republican committee and convince them to make police reform an important issue in your county politics. You can be the persistent widow.
Ride out with us– not for death and glory, but for our people.
For the least of these, the widow, the prisoner, the orphan.