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A Time to Mourn


I have been a Spectrum Blog columnist for 2 years. Through a random occurrence, I am charged with writing the post that will be featured on Thanksgiving. For the past two years, I have tried to stay away from anything contentious on this holiday. However, to put forward that front in the face of so much unrest in our society would be intellectually and emotionally dishonest. My heart breaks today for the six families at the center of a rash of shootings of unarmed African-American men by police officers.[1] So this Thanksgiving, I want to highlight some of those for whom the holiday this year will be especially difficult.

·         I wonder how the family of Ezell Ford will spend this Thanksgiving, the first without him. According to reports, Ford was shot three times in the back while laying on the ground in surrender to Los Angeles police. The police say that there was a struggle in which Ford attempted to grab an officer’s gun. No one disputes that Ford was mentally ill and that this fact was known by the local police.

·         Eric Garner was killed as a result of an illegal chokehold after a minor dispute with police. His death has been officially deemed a homicide but after almost 5 months, the charges have not been filed. Garner was unarmed, and because of the actions of police, a wife has lost her husband, six children have lost their father, and a mother has lost her son. I wonder what this family will do when they look at the empty space at the head of their Thanksgiving table.

·         John Crawford III was probably going to buy that BB gun at Walmart for his son. Instead, as he walked through the store with the gun, another patron called 911 and said that Crawford was waving the gun, pointing it at other customers, and insinuated that he may have loaded it. The patron later changed his story. Unfortunately it was too late for it to do much good. Police responded to the 911 call and shot Crawford when he did not respond to commands to drop the weapon. The videotape, released months later, contradicted the officers’ account that Crawford made a sudden movement towards them that caused them to fear for their safety. Although his death was ruled a homicide, thegrand jury refused to indict. I cannot imagine what Crawford’s two sons will be thankful for tomorrow.

·         Akai Gurley’s fatal mistake was that he was in the stairwell. He was shot and killed by two police officers on a routine patrol of the housing project where he lived. Gurley just accepted a job with the city housing authority and was acting and modeling. I wonder if his two-year old daughter will remember anything about him when she gets older.

·         Tamir Rice was 12 years old, pointing his BB gun at people in a park. When someone called 911, they told the dispatcher that the gun was probably fake, a fact that the dispatcher failed to relay to the officers responding on the scene. The officers reported that they asked Rice to raise his hands and that in response Rice reached for the weapon. The video released today (albeit with no audio) shows that the police officer who killed Rice shot him within seconds upon arriving at the scene. In a statement the parents said, “The holiday season begins this week. Instead of the love, fellowship and joy the season brings to many families, we will be mourning the loss of Tamir. We looked forward to spending Thanksgiving with Tamir as a family.”

·         The country has been embroiled in the case of Michael Brown since he was killed by Officer Darren Wilson in August of this year. While the facts of this case are still shrouded in mystery, what is clear is that Brown was unarmed and approximately 50 yards away from Officer Wilson when Wilson fired the first of several shots that eventually killed Brown. The grand jury in Ferguson this week decided not to return an indictment against Officer Wilson. A family is spending this holiday not only feeling a sense of loss but a sense of injustice.

We may disagree on whether any of these particular cases involve police misconduct or not. We may have very different viewpoints on whether and how this recent spate of unarmed Black men being shot by White police officers fits into the long history of police brutality against African-Americans throughout history. We can debate whether the protests are necessary or of value. We can talk about why it is so difficult to return an indictment against a police officer. However, we cannot debate that these families are feeling a keen sense of loss as they celebrate their first Thanksgiving without their loved one. We should all be able to sympathize and empathize with those who are struggling to grieve the lost of a loved one.

Not only should this be our goal because of our shared humanity, but it is part of our calling as. Not only does God say that the mourning are blessed, but Jesus spent so much of His time on Earth comforting the least among us. We must resist the temptation to be self-serving in our thanks while denigrating others. We must avoid the trap of responding to others the way Pharisees did, with contempt for those on the lower rungs of society.  On this Thanksgiving we will all certainly enjoy time with family, friends, and loved ones. But let us also remember that there are people and families to embrace that are working through their pain and their grief today. In the midst of our celebrations today, I hope we take time to not only thank God for all the good things He has blessed us with, but that we would also remember to say a prayer for those who feel the loss of life as they sit down for their first Thanksgiving with their loved one.


[1] In two of these cases, the deceased was in possession of a BB gun. There are differences amongst jurisdictions over whether this is considered being “armed.”



Jason Hines is an attorney and doctoral student in Religion, Politics, and Society at the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at

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