The death of Justine Damond is a human tragedy. However, I must say that I now understand the lack of fuss in a way that I did not fully comprehend before. Yes, someone died under problematic circumstances. But the story of Damond’s passing helped me understand how someone can view these incidents as just a confluence of unfortunate events and not anything that to be concerned about in any meaningful way.
It is important to carefully examine the circumstances that led to Damond’s demise. At first blush, her death seems to be an unjustifiable injustice, but upon further review, a different picture can emerge. Damond, a former addict who has a self-admitted family history of addiction, seemed to be turning her life around. The genesis of her passing was even something that seems positive; she called 911 twice to report a possible sexual assault. The police came to investigate and did not find anything to justify the call. Unfortunately, Damond was not more specific in terms of where she thought this possible crime was occurring. Possibly. if she had been more observant or helpful, maybe she would not have died.
According to reports, the officers faithfully performed their duty, canvassing the area looking for the crime they were led to believe was taking place. Finding no evidence to substantiate Damond’s suspicions, they took another call and were preparing to assist other citizens in accordance with their duties. It was in this moment that Damond made what was a foolish and soon-to-be fatal mistake. In order to get the officers’ attention, she slapped the back of their car and approached the driver’s side door. Startled by the sudden noise and at the height of tension, the officer in the passenger’s side fired through the door and struck Damond. Despite the administration of CPR, Damond died in the alley behind her home.
There are several arguments that could be made in Damond’s defense. Each of those arguments has a logical counterargument that places responsibility for Damond’s death in her own hands. It is definitely illogical for Damond to think that the best thing to do in this situation would be to bang on a cop car and frantically approach police officers in the way she did. Police officers are trained to work in a heightened state and make split second decisions based on a number of factors occurring in a moment. The officer’s fearful state can be argued as perfectly reasonable and, as such, his use of force completely justified. After all, it had been less than two weeks after a police officer in New York was ambushed and murdered in a similar scenario. Police officers seek to do their jobs responsibly but are also concerned for their safety. They just want to make it home to their families at the end of the day and will occasionally need to make tough decisions in order to do so.
Some might argue that in her rush to help and being in need, Damond was equally frazzled. That may be true, but that excuse did not lead to a conviction for the officer who shot Jonathan Ferrell, and I can intellectually understand how someone could view Ferrell’s and Damond’s situations as analogous. Moreover, it seems that any group that wishes to come to Damond’s defense has bigger fish to fry. Opioid addiction, which is prevalent among White people, is on the rise in Minnesota. Once we decide that these types of deaths are just unfortunate, it becomes totally reasonable to shift our focus to stemming the tide of that drug crisis and the deaths caused from that before we rise up in revolt about one person who died under rare and unrepeatable circumstances. This applies to gender as well as race. If any women’s group is concerned about Damond’s passing, logic demands that group members be more concerned about the approximately 650,000 lives aborted in this country on a yearly basis.
I can also now see how some Christians would believe it is their duty to make sure that people who may be unnecessarily concerned about these events view these situations in the proper way. In a previous Spectrum post, I formulated a challenge to White Adventists that mirrored the anguish of Habbakuk. “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?”
A reader emailed me an answer, respectively replying, “There is nothing to see here. It is purely biased news reporting of a problem that does not exist,” and “Like the scare of Y2K, people are afraid of [a] problem that people perceive is real, however insignificant and non-existent it is.”
At the time I was upset, but I now see what this reader was trying to tell me. He believed that when someone is grieving, the worst thing I can do, the least Christ-like thing I can do is let them grieve mistakenly. To mourn with them is to run the risk of having them believe that you support them in their beliefs about their reality when you actually do not care about their pain at all. And to be dishonest in that way is problematic for them and for you. Truly following the example of Christ is not about meeting them at their lowest point of grief and sadness and inhabiting that space with them. It is pulling them from their mistaken grief to a higher standard of truth and into the cold light of reality.
At least that is what it seemed like this person was saying to me, and I can understand how that would make sense to someone. As another reader expressed to me, we would not want our empathy to be confused for pity. It is unfortunate that death exists in our world, and so long as we can find the most attenuated logic to justify these horrors—so long as we can justify our unwillingness to confront the possibility that different groups of people might have a different experience on this planet, we are correct to follow those logical paths to our reinforced conclusions. It is for this reason we have joined our cause to the cause of Christ, and it is our righteous witness to a sinful world. I get it now.
Jonathan Ferrell was shot by police as he approached them for help after having been in a car accident.
Jason Hines is a former 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.
Image Credit: 2015 photo of Justine Damond (also known as Justine Ruszczyk) from Sydney Australia. Photo released for media use by Stephen Govel Photography in New York on July 17, 2017.
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