What Can Be Done? Part II

Last week, we began our discussion on the horrific spate of violence that had occurred between police and citizens in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas. The shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota by police were of individuals who did not seem to be acting in ways that required use of deadly force.

People protested-which is acceptable; even admirable-and it was even more admirable that the protest were peaceful. But then the unacceptable and the horrific occurred-a man in Dallas shot and killed five police officers. That was followed by another shooting of policemen; this time, in Louisiana. Both shooters were black men-apparently targeting white policeman (even though one of the policemen who died was also black.

These events demonstrate how insane the world has become. First, how does killing police address the problems of things such as racial profiling and the “crime” of “driving while black” that any number of people of color have experienced                   (including me)? All those kinds of things do is take the focus away from those kinds of issues, while taking innocent lives away at the same time.

Violence only begets more violence. Law enforcement kills some black men; in response, two black men killed law enforcement officers-one would suppose, to avenge the ones killed by the police.

But suppose someone decides to avenge the policemen’s deaths? Would anyone like to guess the color of the people most likely to die if someone decides that the policemen’s deaths must be avenged?

Even though as Adventists, we already know that all of these things are signs of the end and that things are only going to get worse until Jesus comes and eliminates sin and sinners forever, we still have a responsibility to do everything that we can to address the problem. But, what can be done?

I think that there are several things that can be done:

First, we have to admit that there is a problem. I was in a meeting last week with  the Presidents of the Southern Union when this subject came up. A few of my African-American colleagues spoke about the difference between being a person of color in the United States and not being a person of color. One of my African-American colleagues told a horrific and moving story of what happened to him when he was pulled over and, totally without cause, detained. Another African-American colleague spoke of being pulled over by the police and asked where he was going, because he was driving a nice car. He was suspected of being a drug dealer. I told my Caucasian colleagues that flashing lights in my rearview mirror mean something different to me than it means to them.

To their absolute credit, my Caucasian colleagues responded sympathetically, saying sincerely that they could not imagine what it was like to live like that.

What would have made things much worse would have been for my colleagues to have taken the position that law enforcement never does anything like that, that if we were stopped, it was because we had broken the law or were acting suspiciously in some way. It is very difficult to be mistreated and then to be told that the perpetrator of your mistreatment is not at fault you-that you are the cause of your own mistreatment.

The fact is that there are some people in law enforcement who have done things like pull over minority drivers for reasons that seem suspect; I suspect that many minority drivers have had that experience-it has happened to me. That is a problem-and we can’t fix it until we face it.

Second, we have to talk about the problem. Shooting each other is not going to solve the problem. First of all, it is the people who live in the neighborhoods where a number of constituents live and where the majority of our churches are the ones that most need police.

I was in New York not long ago, leaving a church late at night in an economically challenged neighborhood. My car was parked a couple of blocks away and the street was not well lit. That was not a fun walk; in fact, I walked in the street, because I thought that I would rather take my chances with getting hit by a car rather than from getting hit by a mugger. Or that time in another economically challenged neighborhood in Chicago, at 2:30 a.m., trying to put gas in my rental car, before taking it back to the airport. No, we need the police-to protect us from people doing bad things.

But occasionally, it is the police, who do the bad the things, like racially profiling people and pulling them over without reasonable cause. Those things are:

  1. A reality-especially for people of color
  2. Wrong
  3. At least a possible reason why innocent people wind up getting killed

So, we have to talk about these kinds of things; they will not just go away of themselves.

But talk to whom? I suggest to at least three groups:

  1. The obvious group is law enforcement. I assume that there is a precinct of some sort near all of our churches. There has to be some reaching out to the law enforcement people in that precinct. Invite them to come to your church; you can give out some type of community service award during divine worship service to the law enforcement people in your community-the good ones certainly deserve it.

Then at AYS (remember AYS?), you can bring them back for a dialog. Share your concerns with them and listen to their concerns. In particular, have them share how they expect our young men to relate to them-some of our young men have difficulty relating to authority; it is not a good thing to relate poorly with people who carry guns and handcuffs.

  1. Talk with other leaders and groups in your church’s community. We do not inhabit the communities in which our churches reside by ourselves-we need a presence in the communities where our churches reside.

I’ll be the first to admit-community involvement has never been a strong point in my ministry. But should not the presence of our church in a community make that community better? How will we make a community better if we are not involved in it?

There are no doubt other churches, groups or community leaders who want a better connection between law enforcement and the community where your church is. Why not find out who these churches, groups and leaders are and connect with them?

  1. Talk with people outside your community. People of color cannot fix this problem ourselves-especially if people who are not of color do not believe that there is a problem.

The dialog that the Presidents of the Southern Union was helpful; maybe it can be replicated local church level. Now, if there is no normal dialog across conference lines (and sometimes, there is not a whole lot of dialog even among churches in the same city who are in the same conference), this is probably a tough place to start.

But-you do need to start. At the end of the day, we  all still have the same mission and there are things that we could do better if we did them together than if we just do everything apart.

But things are not going to change without people of all backgrounds agreeing that we have a problem and that not addressing it, makes all of us a little less safe.

As Adventists, we realize that there are no permanent fixes to the problem of sin, except Jesus. But even Jesus did give people Jesus, until He demonstrated that He was concerned about their lives.

We have to do the same.