Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot dead by a police officer this week, and I’m still chewing on what this means to us.
1. Can’t shake these words: Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression. (Isaiah 1:16-17) Perhaps it requires humility to recognize that justice is learned. Let’s learn.
2. Worlds are colliding. I keep hearing versions of the same question: Are things getting worse, or has it always been like this? If someone has lived in the mainstream majority culture, they have never had to seriously consider moments like these. But the world has changed, and everybody is now confronted with what many have seen for generations.
3. This is not an isolated incident. Let’s be honest; there just happened to be a witness who happened to have a phone and an angle where he could record what took place. Without such clear evidence, the original, official story would have been accepted. The only narrative we ever hear is that of the survivor, which can obviously incentivize someone to not have a survivor.
4. Non-minorities need to wrestle with the fact that black people, especially men, fear the police and regularly fear for their safety. If I’m working late it never crosses my mind to stop working, hurry up and get home, so I’m not out on the streets. When I am stopped by an officer, I never think to call my wife, put the phone on speaker, and start praying for my safety. My wife doesn’t begin to tremble, praying that God will spare my life. When my daughter drives around town I have never warned her not to drive with too many white friends because she might get pulled over for DWW, driving while white. I never warn my sons not to wear their clothes in certain ways or to be out at certain times of the day. My majority experience can leave me ignorant and unaware of the minority experience.
5. It is indeed ironic that so many of the people who publically disrespect the office of the president are the quickest to demand honor and respect toward the office of a policeman. Romans 13 is a good read for all of us.
6. Accountability does not change the human heart, but it does restrain human behavior. And restraint is a big part of the justice-working function of government. We behave differently in the context of acountability. I am a pastor of a church and I certainly hope that people trust me as a spiritual leader. Yet we have very real measures in place to help me stay above reproach, because accountability makes it easier to remain virtuous. I assume that the overwhelming majority of police officers are faithful, dignified, and trustworthy – just as I assume most pastors are above reproach. They lay their lives on the line on a regular basis. Thank God for their service. But just as the position of a pastor could be a snare for those given to abuse of authority, the position of a police officer could easily set people up to abuse power. How do we functionally learn to do good and correct oppression in our context? I know it’s costly, but I’m sold on putting body cameras on officers. And when tragedy occurs, the investigation should be from outside, not inside the local department. Seek justice.
7. We now have another opportunity to do something unique. Everybody expects all the kids to run to the black side of the cafeteria or the white side of the cafeteria. Everybody expects Sundays to remain the most segregated time of the week. Everybody expects whites to be predictably insensitive (“Look at all that back child support.”) and blacks to be predictably hard (“Nothing has changed!”). Everybody expects people to define themselves by their race.
But what if we embrace our race, while defining ourselves by His grace? While governments and systems and cameras can restrain our hearts, only the grace of Jesus will change our hearts. What if we found our ultimate identity in the grace-family of God. What if we offered the unpredictable alternative made possible in reconciling power of Jesus Christ. God with us. But we’ll never find a way to understand one another until we look to the One who made a way to understand us. Black-white. Men-women. Hispanic-gringo. I can name a thousand ways to divide, but there is one way to reconcile.
At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light.
For further reading about contemporary American policing and the possibilities for improvement click: here