Tag Archives: Ferguson

Police brutality and the unjust judge

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“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city, there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.  In that city, there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’  For a while he refused, but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’  And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?  Will he delay long in helping them?  I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.  And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?'”

~ Luke 18.1-8, NRSV

This morning, I am thinking of how race makes us unjust judges, that our prejudices can be so strong that we neither fear God nor have respect for people, that we don’t know that we are wrong and that there are right- behaving people of all cultures, that while we pass laws and enforce them, that we seek justice but we are not justice, we are not the law and certainly not above it, that we all need the law and are subject to it: both police officer and citizen.

This morning, I thought, “What if God is the widow, pleading with us to be an answered prayer for the people of Ferguson, of New York City, of Beavercreek, of Cleveland?”  Many of us feel called to judge or are in a position to judge but we are not just, whether we wear badges or not.  We do not uphold the law or respect it; yet, we make demands of it when one of our members crosses the line or breaks a law that we really believe in.  And there are those of us who still want to exact our own justice– even after the grand jury’s verdicts in several of the cases mentioned.

But, we can’t be just judges because we don’t know when to stop punishing.  We don’t know how to stop needing to exact pain when we have been hurt.  We don’t know the difference between justice and revenge.

We can’t be just judges because we are blinded by our own racial devotion, co-opted by our own histories and traditions of prejudice and stereotype.  We really don’t see persons a part from these lenses and it throws off our scales of justice.  So, let’s very slowly, put the guns and the protest signs down.

Jesus’ parable reminds us that if we feel as if we are the widow today, as police officer or citizen, that there is a Higher Court.  And if we do not mind waiting on God, then God will certainly answer– but it will be His decision not ours.  He is always just and the Judge of us all.

We have a column!

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Baptist News Global has asked me to write a monthly column for their “Perspectives” page and I have accepted.  Of course.  I am so grateful to the editor, Robert Dilday and the staff for the opportunity to share my perspective on the social construct of race and its intersections as it relates to our Christian faith and witness.  My first offering is “The Race Talk.”  Have you had it?

Before & After Ferguson

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Persons who are protesting the shooting of unarmed teenager, Mr. Michael Brown, Jr., are saying, “I can’t believe we’re here again, that we’re doing this again.”  Some are angry and even disappointed that they are seeing the same old seemingly race- based, race- driven stories and they are responding the same way, using the same words that they did the last time something like this happened.  They almost mumble, “I thought we had come farther along than this.  I thought that we were past this.”

Why does this scene keep replaying itself?  Why the same characters: police officer or one who wants to be one and unarmed African American male teenager?  Why aren’t things changing?  We witnessed.  We reported.  We protested.  We were jailed.  We asked for a charge and a conviction.  We did all of the things that we normally do and still no change.  Could it be that we might want to change our response to such tragedies before they even happen?

C. S. Lewis believed, “If conversion makes no improvements in a man’s outward actions, then I think his (and her) conversion was largely imaginary.”  As Christians, we are not being transformed in order to see people and situations the same way or respond as we always have.  If we are, in fact, new creatures, then we should have new thoughts on race and new perspectives on its power and presence in America, namely ridding ourselves of it and not allowing it to determine who we form relationships with (cf. Second Corinthians 5.17).

One obvious piece of evidence that points to our allegiance to race is the absence of the word: all.  We are all God’s children and all in Christ and yet, Christians are still employing the unclear and divisive language of “us” and “them.”  We may pack our boxes neatly and indiscriminately but the results are the same.  Still, there are no sides in God’s house but there are in race’s “house of bondage” as described by James Baldwin.

The fact is, people whose God is the Word should not be afraid of talking about any word, especially race.  We should always be talking about race as it is a very present injustice, one of the cruelest of crimes against all of humanity, that is to assert that our value is external, physical and depreciating and not intrinsic, given by God and unable to be lost or taken away.

We should be talking about race until we reach a mutual understanding, grounded not in our wounds but Christ’s stripes (cf. Isaiah 53.5).  But, too often, we talk to support our comfortable prejudices and be affirmed of our hopeless conclusions concerning potential relationships with persons of other cultures.  Our language has not been converted, our necks are stiffened by prejudice and our hearts hardened by stereotypes.  We dig our heals into our experience and what we believe to be the right way to see things, singing, “We shall not be moved.” Again and again and again.  Then, wonder how did we get here?

We should have been talking about race before the death of Mr. Brown in Ferguson and we should not end the conversation abruptly when the trial is over, less we return to the blame game and playing of “the race card.”  And while I am certain that we will talk about race in our safe, affirming and agreeable circles, it is my hope that we would say something new, that we might consider loving those we have been taught to see as “the enemy,” that we forgive persons for what they have done and/or what we thought they might do to us.

I find it saddening and strange that God calls us friends but that we, His children, are not able to say that of each other, that we have grown rather comfortable as a disconnected, disjointed Body (John 15.15).  Before and after times like these, we should seek reconciliation and not re-injury.  We should talk until it hurts us– not others.  We should be transparent, reveal our wounds but then allow them to be healed.  And we have to acknowledge and address the suffering of others.  Race victimizes us all; there are no heroes here.

We cannot afford to simply care for those in our circles or those belonging to our culture.  We must not withhold our tears, our mourning, our sadness because he and she did not “look like” me.  Instead, we must assert that violence against any body is violence against every body.  When any human being dies, something of ourselves also passes with them.

And we must know this before and after anything else like Ferguson happens as it may prevent it one day from happening… again.

Ferguson: An Unnecessary Repetition

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I have heard persons say that we have seen this before, that we have heard these police accounts and witness statements before, that we have heard the President, politicians and news personalities make these same arguments before.

Again.  It is a troubling word when used in sentences involving the untimely death of a teenager.  An unarmed teenager has been killed again.

Summer is supposed to be celebrated with family picnics, trips to amusement parks and vacations to exotic islands or relatives’ homes.  Instead, the summer’s end is introduced by another teenager killed by a police officer.  Children should not be killed by anyone, any where and at any time, whether in their homes at the hands of parents, in the streets of Chicago, Ferguson or Washington, D.C. at the hands of neighbors or in their bedrooms at their own hands.  Children are simply not supposed to die but they do… again and again.

The tragic and unfortunate shooting of Mr. Michael Brown, Jr. has people talking.  We are talking about the issues: race and its role, power and its abuse, the suspected brutality of police officers and the assumed criminality of persons socially colored black, the laws that need to change and the people that need to be held accountable for their actions.

We are talking about it again.  But, are we saying anything different?  Has we informed our response and change it since the last shooting?  Or, are we repeating more of the same?

I propose that we continue talking about race but not to enter the dialogue as usual.  Here’s how:

First, leave your neighborhood.  If we are not leaving our socially constructed racial circles, then we are not saying much and we are not making any progress.  Be bold enough to cross the ‘color line’ and speak respectfully to persons of other cultures about race.

Secondly, leave your pre- recorded race speech at home.  We must enter the conversation with our ‘hands up’ in surrender, willing to believe and trust that we will not be attacked.  We must believe that we do not pose a threat to one another, that we can and will speak peacefully to each other.

Thirdly, break the routine of race: Forgive.  Forgive before all of the facts come in.  Forgive before the verdict comes in.  Every time that you are reminded of the hurt, forgive.  Forgive again and again and again.

Finally, seek every opportunity to reconcile and pursue reconciliation.  Make friends, real friends, with persons of other cultures.  We are human beings; we have everything that is important in common.  We must come together again and avoid these unnecessary repetitions.

 

 

Ferguson: Healing the Wounded Now

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“Hands up; don’t shoot!”  It is the rallying cry of persons whose eyes are on and hearts are with the family of Mr. Michael Brown, Jr.  and the people of Ferguson.  It is an instruction given to police officers, reminding them of the universal sign of surrender and the appropriate action when it is given.  But, their words also remind us that the conversation is only beginning.

Many persons in Ferguson are talking about police brutality and rightly so as the details surrounding Mr. Brown’s death are still being collected.  They and others around the nation want to know what led up to the death of an unarmed teenager.  How did he die in his own neighborhood at the hands of someone who answers the call to ‘protect and serve?’  Was the amount of force justified if he had no weapon?  Is stealing punishable by death?  These are all good and necessary questions.  Unfortunately, for some, these answers are not coming fast enough.

So, how do we deal with the wound of now?  What should we be saying right now while we wait for the truth to come to light?  There are at least two sides to every story and while the results of an autopsy requested by the family has been released, telling part of the story according to Mr. Brown’s body (and this is not his full story), we have yet to hear from Officer Darren Wilson.  No matter our conclusions or the reputation of American history, we must assume that he, too, is innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

Everyone involved is hurting and expressing pain over a wound that reminds them of something old (i.e. poor ‘race relations’ involving police officers or persons playing the ‘race card’ in cases involving criminal acts).  Playing the blame game never produces a winner; instead, both persons lose.  And we have all lost if we sit at this table.

Instead, let us pray together to the God of all of Ferguson, who loves both police officers and protesters, both Officer Darren Wilson and Mr. Michael Brown, Jr.  Let’s stop talking about the problem and give our attention to the Solution.  Timothy Keller once said that “the question is not ‘What would Jesus do?’ but ‘What has Jesus done?'”

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53.5, NIV).