Another day, another police officer-involved shooting. These national tragedies are happening with frightening regularity. So much so that we don’t need narration; we know the end from the beginning: “He had a gun.” “I felt that my life was in danger.” “He looks like a bad dude.”
Release his mug shot. Talk about his past criminal record or his drug addiction. “No charges will be filed but we will provide more training.”
Or, in the case of Freddie Gray’s death, though ruled a homicide, no one is found guilty. But someone did it. I mean, he didn’t kill himself.
Still, our criminal justice system refuses to point the finger at itself. It will plead the Fifth Amendment before it confesses to complicity in these crimes. And this response only increases the lack of trust in the African-American community.
Because when police officers break the law and their comrades serve their own interests and protect them, no one is safe. When police officers break the law, the standard of right conduct and belief in good judgment is lost. When police officers break the law, it calls into question the validity and value of the law. If they won’t follow it, then why enforce it? When police officers break the law, they break the trust of the people.
This country has a police brutality problem. This country has a race problem. And it needs to rid itself of both. Period.
Captured in hash tags like #TerenceCrutcher, whose death has also been ruled a homicide for which Officer Betty Shelby has been charged with manslaughter, their deaths are telling a story that some of us don’t want to hear anymore. For different reasons, we don’t want to hear it again and we are tired of the same comments. Dr. King quotes won’t fix it. And don’t talk about his dream when we allow this nightmare to keep occurring.
Frankly, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been a hash tag too. He was routinely harassed, falsely imprisoned and even subjected to FBI surveillance. He was considered a terrorist and labeled unpatriotic. King was called by then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover “the most notorious liar in the country.” Interestingly enough, the statement was made before King’s trip to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. I guess he thought that King’s statements about the poor social and economic conditions of African Americans were overblown. He didn’t need to start a civil rights movement. This has all been said and done before. #JamesEarlCheney #AndrewGoodman #MichaelSchwerner
Consequently, more sensitivity training and body cameras will amount to nothing if we don’t begin to feel for ourselves the real pain inflicted upon the psyche of the African-American community, if we don’t begin to examine the prejudices and stereotypes that we hold. Instead, we must become something more than an empathic listener because at this juncture, there are no innocent bystanders. We are all witnesses. We need to all testify to this systemic injustice.
The truth is, this has been happening my entire life. #RodneyKing #AbnerLouima #AmadouDiallo The story surrounding Rodney King’s injuries would have been different if not for the videotape of a bystander, George Holliday. It is said that King was hit and kicked some 56 times in addition to being shocked with a Taser. All of this was done while other police officers looked on and initially none of the officers was found guilty. Cue the L.A. riots.
Abner Louima was arrested and sodomized with a broomstick in the 70th precinct station house in Brooklyn. C’mon guys. That was a lot more than “stop and frisk.”
In the case of Diallo, the police officers thought that he had a gun. Forty-one bullets later, they discovered that it was his wallet. All of the officers were found not guilty.
Yes, this disappointment, frustration and pain runs deep. The history of distrust of police officers goes farther back than my memory. African-American parents have been telling their children to be careful when they leave the house and in certain neighborhoods for centuries. #paddyrollers #KuKluxKlan Forgive me if I decline the invitation for more talk of trust-building because this is not just about trust. In too many instances, police officers are not serving nicely and need to learn to keep their guns to themselves.
Samuel Proctor wrote in his book My Moral Odyssey, “A crucial characteristic of the incubator that fosters the affirmation of one’s personhood is that one looks around and sees in it order and meaning.” But what kind of order does the African-American community see when police officers make false reports, bend the rules and break the law? What meanings are being seared in the minds of the next generation of African-American motorists when they see their family member, friend or neighbor lying dead in the street after a traffic stop? If they have a license to drive, then police officers have a license to shoot and kill them.
Body after body lying in the street, I have what Proctor calls “questions that will not wait.” Today, I am wondering, “Who is the Good Samaritan now?” When an African American falls into the hands of the police, is shot and left for dead, who will come near him, see him and be moved to help (Luke 10.25.37)?
The pastors are silent. #WhiteChurchSilent Many Christians look the other way, shift their feet and the blame. But who will stay and bandage the wound, put him in their car and take him to the hospital? Who will show mercy?
Tomorrow is another chance. Will there be another police-involved shooting of an African American and who will be the Good Samaritan? I challenge you to change the narrative. Because right now, no one is stopping to help him.
*This article first appeared as a part of my monthly column for Baptist News Global and was published on September 29, 2016.