Issues stemming from race has a long and storied past and still rears its ugly head these days as well. The problems involving race goes as far back as the exploration of this land by European explorers, then the birth of this nation when citizens could “own” slaves, who were Africans typically. Over the next four hundred years, Africans became African Americans, but continued to face painful, disturbing, and degrading trials and tribulations. This blog will not give some sort of history lesson, but I am writing these words under the presupposition that many who will read this will have knowledge of slavery and the Civil Rights movement in the United States. Therefore, I hope to bring some new ideas to decrease the historical tension between law enforcement and the African American (and other minorities) communities that they are called to protect and to serve.
With all of the recent, and possibly, justified uproar that has been surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, we are long past due on rethinking how our law enforcement carries out their duties in communities where there are high numbers of minorities. But we are also equally in need of being honest with ourselves concerning African Americans and our “place” in society. Some might argue that it is unrealistic to desire for policemen to have to change “tactics” when facing different people in different areas. Others might raise their voices to share their opinions against the idea that specific behaviors should be avoided by minorities altogether, regardless of the consequences they may come with them having the freedom to do and say what they want. In the past, I might have agreed with these two critiques. But that would have been before I saw the video of Eric Garner being placed in a choke-hold, then saying, “I can’t breathe,” after arguing with police officers about selling single cigarettes from packs without tax stamps. Situations like these are now in the past, but it is up to us what we choose to take away from them. As the old saying goes, “Those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it.”
First, I feel like it should be written that those who decide to work in law enforcement are a special group of people. I had thought about becoming a police officer myself at one point in my life, but came to the realization that I am too tender-heated, among other things. So, these words are not meant to be some hateful rant against the police, but just another opinion to add to the dialogue of where African Americans and policemen go from here. The language might come across as strong or emotional at times, but that is due to the frustration from seeing an African American male’s life ended over the sale of illegal cigarettes. Law enforcement should be encouraged to do more in the communities that they work in. You should not just be seen during your work hours and riding around in your patrol car. I kept thinking to myself, when Ferguson, Missouri started having buildings go up in flames: law enforcement fellowshipping in the community with those they are serving could have limited the anger and destruction that took place. I am sure some police officer would say that he is busy enough maintaining a presence in certain communities, and I can only imagine what they have to go through on a daily basis. But I would ask, in the wake of the death of Eric Garner (and the acquittal of the police officer who placed the choke-hold on him) especially, would they want to continue on with business as usual, or build bridges with the people of the community and cause there to be a lasting impact on the relationship between those who live there and the others who are visiting. I am always glad when I see events taking place that bring police and young people together for a time of fun and to converse outside the times when police are normally seen. I do not have any data to back my opinion up, other than knowing that it is a bit hard to be extremely aggressive toward someone you have had the time to connect with and get to know genuinely. Again, fellowshipping with the citizens of any community is key.
Now, we cannot just put everything off on law enforcement and totally deny and leave out the responsibilities of those people in the community. It is deeply depressing that SOME protesters’ humanity seems to disappear when their anger takes over rational thinking. Unfortunately, people tend to show how easily anger can take over the mind and the heart and leads down a road of mayhem and destruction. From the beating of Rodney King in the early 1990s to the recent deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, we do see people who were or are willing to peacefully protest, but the building fires and looting that takes place ends up getting the most attention and media exposure. As an African American male, I am always hoping that the “famous African American leaders” will stand up and say that we have to try something different with our approach to police officers until we see profound changes to how some of them come into contact with us. Therefore, there should be a great psychological push to follow the law and keep oneself out of any appearance of evil. That’s biblical, just in case you did not catch that (1 Thessalonians 5: 22). For example: when a group of African American men walk in groups with baggy clothes and hoodies on, they can catch people’s attention quickly and they make people nervous, sometimes justifiably so, and other times not. The reason for this happening is because typically people have seen or heard things about a group of males getting together (who are dressed similarly) and involved in negative or criminal behavior. I am not saying that it is fair or right that we must change because of others’ terrible assumptions of us, but I am stating that changing the ways that we go about meeting up and travelling with our friends might allow for us (or the next generation or another group of minorities) to have more freedoms with how we do things culturally without major negative consequences. Now, I can imagine this idea would not be popular, but an idea, such as this, that demands a paradigm shift is worth the experimentation of the theory.
Now, since I have put forth some thinking on actions that can be made by law enforcers and citizens at the table of peaceful engagement, let us think on the new chant, “Black Lives Matter.” I agree they do. I believe my life matters. I believe your life matters. I believe the unborn babe’s life in a woman’s womb matters. I believe the homeless person’s life matters. I believe the immigrant’s life matters. Basically, we should accept the truth that: “All Lives Matter!” I believe deep down in God’s Love for man lies his Thought that we all matter and all have value from Him, despite how we may view each other on the outside. We should not wait to or only get “up in arms” about deaths of people that share our ethnicity, nationality, or religious beliefs. We need to call out wrong as we see wrong, whenever and wherever we see wrong. So, we should not just protest what happened in Ferguson or what happened to Eric Garner; we should have been protesting the violence done in the urban streets of Chicago and Detroit. We should be angry with gang members, drug dealers, and pimps, who are the cause of so much undesired tragedies. More men and women should stand outside the homes of criminals, who are indifferent about the lives of the citizens of the communities that these criminals are doing their work of terrorism in. Now, I am not advocating violence towards criminals or lynch mobs, but I am making the point that we should show anger towards and protest any and all acts of senseless violence, regardless of the perpetrators’ job title or skin color.
Jesus once made this statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Now, man has been failing to uphold the “Golden Rule” before and after Jesus spoke these words, but it does not mean that we should stop striving towards this as a goal. But truly treating others and loving others as one does him- or herself calls for a true dying of one’s self. He or she must desire to get rid of any arrogance or self-righteousness that is in their heart. We all could stand to take a long look in the mirror, and ask ourselves if we are really about making deeper connections and relationships with those we come into contact with on a regular basis. So, would it be too hard for a police officer to get out of his patrol car, walk over to a bunch of young kids and gently start a conversation about their lives? Is it too much to ask citizens (especially young people) to go up to a police officer or wave them over with a smile and thanking them for their service? Is it too much to ask that we stop taking each other for granted?
(Originally posted on my old and now defunct “Watch Your Theology” website back on January 11, 2015.)