I have not written in this space for several months now – which is not a good thing. I do want to squeeze in three articles before my time comes to an end. So, here goes the first one:
I was sitting in a meeting yesterday and two things came up. First, the horrifying shootings of two black men by police last week-one in Louisiana; right down the street from a Seventh-day Adventist Church – and a second one in Minnesota.
The Minnesota shooting seems particularly troubling: A black man, with no criminal record, who seemed to be complying with police directives – and yet, was shot to death, anyway – in front of his fiancée and her four-year-old daughter. That is an image that young lady and her child will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Now, if there is anything that I have learned in these past seven years it is this: Do not make up your mind until you hear both sides of the story. There is an investigation ongoing and maybe things will look differently after the investigation. Maybe the shooting will look differently when the investigation is completed then it does now-I do not know.
But here is what I do know:
(1) There have been several high-profile killings of civilians by law enforcement officials in the past year or so.
(2) Each time, the victim was black, or a person of color.
And here is the most disturbing thing of all for me: The next time, I see flashing lights in my rear-view mirror and I see that I am about to get pulled over by the police, I am going to be afraid – especially, at night – and even more especially, if I am in an inner city neighborhood.
I am a minister, I qualify for senior citizen discounts, I have never been in any trouble with the police in my life, I have had one traffic ticket in the last 30 years and what little interaction I have ever had with law enforcement has been generally positive.
But despite all of that, if I am getting pulled over by the police, I am going to be afraid. I am even more afraid for my young adult son, who lives in a large city. Something about that just seems troubling to me.
Maybe that fear is irrational – a lot of fear is irrational. I have an almost pathological fear of needles; I do not even like to have my blood drawn.
So maybe my fear of getting pulled over by police is irrational. Maybe the irony of feeling unsafe around the people – most of whom are no doubt good and dedicated people- who risk their lives every day to keep us safe, is irrational.
But if you are reading this and you are a person of color, there is probably a pretty good chance that you understand how I feel. And if you are reading this and you are not black or a person of color, there is a chance that you do not understand how I feel at all. And the totally different perspectives that people of color and people who are not, have on this issue are part of the problem.
Now, the fact that people may have a different perspective on this than me does not make them bad people. It does not necessarily make them racists. One of the things that baffle me – and it happens in the church, too – is the idea that somehow calling someone names is going to get them to come around to your point of view.
Sure, some of the people who excuse every law enforcement killing of persons of color are racist, but a lot of people simply have no experience with police being anything other than what I believe the vast majority of law enforcement officials are – dedicated public servants, who put their lives on the line to protect us.
I am a person of color, so I do not want to pretend that I know what a person who is not of color thinks when they get pulled over by the police. My guess is that a person who is not of color worries about getting a ticket when they get pulled over by the police. Right now, as a person of color, the next time I get pulled over, there is at least a little part of me, that worries about getting shot.
As a black man with a young adult son, I need to have conversations with my young adult son about what to do and what to say and what not to do and what not to say if he is pulled over by police that I do not believe my colleagues who are not of color have to have with their sons.
That is not a good thing. It is not a good thing to know that not knowing that I have a busted taillight might get me pulled over and getting pulled over, might put me in harm’s way.
But not only is that a good thing for people of color, it is also not a good thing for police. Just as I do not want to be judged as an immoral Pastor just because there are a few immoral Pastors, if I were in law enforcement, I would not want to be judged by the action of a few. Society owes it to itself and to law enforcement to deal with the few law enforcement people who do wrong so that aspersions are not cast against the many who do right.
It is possible to be both supportive of law enforcement and to hold them accountable, at the same time. To say to them, “We appreciate what you do – in a very difficult job, that most of us want no part of trying to do.”
“But while we shall fully support your use of deadly force when it is necessary when it seems as though your use of deadly force is unnecessary, we are going to hold you accountable.” To blindly defend law enforcement and to justify each of the killings lately of people who almost always had the same two things in common: They were unarmed and they were people of color – that does not help law enforcement at all.
I absolutely denounce the horrific killing of the police officers in Dallas last week. It was not only an awful crime against those officers and their families, but it was a crime against the rest of us as well. Virtually our only defense against people such as that killer in Dallas is the people that he killed.
If he had lived and I had been a juror in his case, I would have thrown him in jail, thrown away the key and said: “Do not even think about parole; you will die in jail and after you die in jail, we shall lock your casket up.”
But when law enforcement needlessly kills someone, that needs to be denounced as well – by everyone. Just as we cannot have a society where it is open season on law enforcement, we also cannot have a society where law-abiders are afraid of the law enforcers.
I think that what happened last week is a problem. It is true that we as Seventh-day Adventists, we know that the real reason behind all of that is sin and Satan – and nothing is going to be permanently fixed until both sin and Satan are permanently eliminated.
But it is also true that as Seventh-day Adventists, we have an obligation to do what we can to make things better until Jesus comes and to not be – as one person said: “So heavenly-minded that we are no earthly good.”
But – what can be done?
We shall make a few suggestions in our next article.