When Will Enough Be Enough?

unarmedWhen I was a child, my parents taught me to always have respect for the police and the system of law and order. Therefore, in the cases involving police killing armed suspects, I always have had the tendency to give the police the benefit of the doubt that those killings were justified. However, as of late in our country, there has been a rash of police shootings of unarmed Black men! But even when I first heard of these shootings, my natural instinct was once again to give the police the benefit of the doubt and reason that these people were shot because the police felt threaten or feared their lives were in danger.

But then, I thought about it! Aren’t police officers supposed to be trained? Aren’t they supposed to be trained to deal with volatile situations such as those that have dominated the news in recent years? Although it is a potentially deadly situation anytime there is an armed suspect, I couldn’t help but notice the difference in the police’s attitude and actions when it is a white suspect as opposed to a black suspect. For example, a few years ago, a young white man sat in a church in South Carolina and murdered nine people in cold blood! When the police caught up with him, they calmly apprehended him, didn’t throw him on the ground and didn’t even rough him up! In fact, they put a bullet-proof vest on him to make sure he wasn’t shot by any snipers and even stopped to get him something to eat on the way to jail! I honestly doubt they would have treated a black suspect with such respect!

And then, there are the recent cases in Baton Rouge and in Minnesota where those young Black men posed no obvious threat, yet they were shot and killed! Now I understand, the police may be a little scared and naturally suspicious of young Black men, but the statistics bare out the fact that more police are shot and killed every year by White men than by Black men! And if the police are really that scared, how can they really serve and protect the rest of us? That’s a recipe for disaster; a scared man with a gun! You would think having a gun would give one the confidence to handle the situation appropriately!

But the thing that really tipped the scale for me was the shooting of Charles Kinsey by a police officer in Miami. Kinsey is behavior therapist who works at a group home in Miami. Police had received a call about a man with a gun walking around threatening to kill himself. When police arrive on the scene, Kinsey laid down on the ground, on his back with his hands raised in the air. Sitting beside him was an autistic patient (the man with the “gun.”) playing with a toy truck! Kinsey explained to the police that he was a behavior specialist and that the man was autistic and had wandered away from the facility, that what was in the autistic man’s hand was not a gun, but a toy truck and that he was trying to retrieve him. Picture this! He’s lying on his back with both hands in the air! He verbally explains to the police what the situation is! The autistic man is sitting in an upright position, playing with his toy truck! Yet it is the black man, laying on his back with both of his hands up, that the police shoots! They claim the shooting was a mistake, but if  there was any mistake to have been made in that situation, wouldn’t it have more likely been shooting the autistic man who was sitting up playing with a toy truck? That would have been a more reasonable “mistake” because the object in the man’s hand could have been mistaken for a gun! But how can you mistakenly shoot an unarmed man lying on his back with his hands in the air right beside the man with the object in his hand? To add insult to injury, after Kinsey was shot, they rolled him over and handcuffed him as he lay bleeding from his wounds! When he asked the police officer why did he shoot him, the police officer reportedly said that he didn’t know! I would suggest that even if they really felt it was a mistake, they wouldn’t have treated him the way they did after they shot him! Thankfully, Kinsey survived the shooting and someone was filming this, but it makes one wonder; how many other times innocent people have been shot and killed and the police covered it up because no one was there to film it?

I read about this incident on a news website that said: “The incident illustrates the edgy mood of US police and the nation in general after the police ambush in Dallas that left five officers dead and another similar incident Sunday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana that killed three.” But I beg to differ! Yes! Police and the nation are on edge, but this incident was not an illustration of that! If such were the case, then the man with the object in his hand would have been shot! But it was the black man, lying on his back with his hands in the air that was shot! So this incident is not an illustration of police edginess in view of what happened in Dallas and Baton Rouge! It is, however, an illustration of the systemic racism and racial profiling that is so pervasive in this country!

America has a serious race problem that has tainted and tipped the scales of justice and the due process of law! To ignore the obvious will not make it go away! We must deal with it! How many more, Black men and police officers will have to die before we do? When will enough be enough?  

Update: Since the original writing of this post, it has been reported that the police said the officer who shot Mr. Kinsey in the leg was actually aiming to shoot the autistic man! Likely story! At any rate, even if he was, he should be fired and in addition to charges of attempted murder, he should be prosecuted for poor judgment, not listening, and being a “bad shot!”

Diamonds On Black Velvet

diamonds on black velvetIf you walk into any jewelry store, you will notice that most of the jewelry, especially the diamonds, are laid out on black velvet. The store does this because the black velvet or any dark background provides a contrast that accentuates or brings out the brightness and beauty of the jewelry.

Well, I was meeting with a group of clergy the other day and we were discussing what the church’s response should be to the recent racial tension that has gripped our nation because of what happened in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas. As we sat there, it occurred to me that the fact that we were sitting there, discussing what we “should” do was an indictment against us because of what we haven’t been doing! Let me show you what I’m talking about:

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Phil. 2:14-15 ESV) Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16 ESV) Do you know when light shines the brightest? When it is surrounded by darkness! I used to think that the stars only came out at night. But the scientific truth is that the stars are shining all the time! But we are only able to see their brilliance and beauty at night because of the darkness!

What am I saying? I am saying that the best response for the church and for any Christian in light of what is happening in our nation is not to do anything extra or special, but to just simply be what Christians and the church suppose to be in the first place! Be a city that sits on a hill that cannot be hidden! Be a bright light in a dark place! Shine like stars; brightly lighting up the sky on a dark night! In the midst of the darkness of racism, hatred, and gun violence, those who are truly Christians shine like stars on a dark night! The real followers of Christ are so different from the world that they contrast like diamonds on black velvet!

The problem with the church has been that, all too often, the church has been trying to be “like the world” in order to attract the world! But our calling is to be different! When you “be” like something, you actually become that! While the church is trying to be like the world to attract the world, the world really wishes the church would actually be different because the world is sick of itself and really doesn’t want to be the way that it is! The world is hungry for something authentic and real! The world is hungry for the Living Bread! No! Our calling is to be a stark contrast to the world! Our calling is to be like stars shining on a dark night! Our calling is to be like diamonds on black velvet!