I had every intention of writing about something else this month. In fact, I have half a draft of a post that I probably will come back to at some point in the future, maybe next month. (Luckily for me, I guess, that topic can be described as evergreen.) However, in light of the manslaughter of Tyre King, Terence Crutcher, and Keith L. Scott this week, I decided that my little corner of the Internet this month is best used to say something about the horrible circumstances of society that led to these unfortunate deaths.1 But solving the dilemma of what to write about only created another problem. As I began to ruminate on these senseless deaths, I couldn’t begin to think of what else to say about them. And then the names came like a flood. Michael Brown. Jonathan Crawford. Jonathan Ferrell. Akai Gurley. Rekia Boyd. Walter Scott. Sandra Bland. Tamir Rice. Freddie Gray. Eric Garner. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Laquan McDonald. Ezell Ford. Samuel DuBose.2 All of these people, dead under circumstances where no one had to die and where there was not sufficient reason for anyone to be harmed, let alone dead.
I guess I could quickly dispatch some of the common refrains that arise when another Black person is killed by a police officer under suspicious circumstances. I could talk about how police shootings are different because the police, as an arm of the state, should be more judicious with the use of violence. I could summarily dismiss the red herring of Black-on-Black crime by pointing out that African-American communities have long been trying to quell the tide of violence in their communities and that anyone who asks why Black people won’t do something about it only prove their ignorance on the subject. I could talk about the long history of police violence in African-American communities and raise the point that we are barely three generations removed from state-sponsored and condoned violence against Black people in this country.3 I could argue that no power allows police to be judge, jury, and executioner in our society and that whatever extenuating circumstances may exist in these cases, none of them require that someone die as a result. I could talk to you about how much it personally hurts to watch (mostly) White people grasp at these easy stances just to avoid the painfully obvious fact that people of color, and Black people in particular, live a very different existence in this country as it pertains to interactions with police, and that these incidents are not isolated, but are emblematic of a much broader history that is part and parcel of the African-American experience in the United States.4
Instead, I want to make this one point. Sometimes I feel like Habakkuk crying out to God, “Lord how long?”5 But my complaint is not about God; neither is it even about the justice system that seems to fail in so many of these cases. Instead, my complaint is for and to my White brothers and sisters. How long will you see these things happening and excuse them away? How long can you see the pain and anguish of the people you believe you will share Heaven with and ignore their cries? There are Black Seventh-day Adventists hurting this week because they feel a little less safe. They wonder if they will find themselves in a situation where their name will become a hashtag despite the fact that they have done nothing wrong. We have seen people killed by police when there was not even a scintilla of impropriety. There is a sense of despair and hopelessness that is never addressed, only forgotten until the next Black person dies under these same conditions. There are things that can be done.6 This is not a White problem or a Black problem. This is a human problem, and as such, we can all have a hand in finding a solution.
1-- I am sure that someone will quibble with my description of these deaths as manslaughter. However, if we define manslaughter as criminally causing the death of another in the heat of the moment, I believe these deaths fit that definition.
2-- These are just the names that I can remember making national news. There are several more whose names and stories go unheard. My heart goes out to these families as well in prayers that they find both justice and peace in a society that seems to have little of either for them.
3-- For example, when my father was born, segregation was the law of the land, and lynching was a common occurrence.
4-- By the way, this especially includes White Adventists who are supposed to be my “brothers and sisters” in Christ. I often wonder if White Adventists would trot out statistics about White on White crime if a police officer unjustifiably killed one of their actual family members.
5-- I think the entirety of the quote is apropos here - "How long, O Lord, will I call for help, And You will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, And cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out perverted." Hab 1:2-4.
6-- I hope and pray that every person who reads this post will go to this link and carefully consider what they read there. In those hopes, I apologize in advance for the bad language.
Jason Hines is an attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
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