With all the emotions surrounding the shooting death of Michael Brown by Police Officer Darren Wilson and the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict, it’s been very difficult to gather my thoughts into a coherent response. I view this tragedy first as a Christian, but also as a Black man in America and a lawyer who regularly works with law enforcement. Now that the criminal proceedings seem to be over, I want to take something substantive from this situation that can lead to positive results moving forward, but I keep asking myself, where do I even begin? Although I’ve always thought it sounds trite, I ultimately had to ask myself, what would Jesus do?
Mourn With Those Who Mourn
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4). Also, when Lazarus died, Jesus wept (John 11:35). Based on that I think we should first mourn with the Brown family. At the tender age of 18, regardless of what happened just prior to his death, Michael Brown was someone’s child. On August 9, 2014 Michael Brown’s parents had their greatest fear realized. I wish we could all see that even the life of someone with a bad past has value. I wish we could all see that even people who have done bad things bear God’s image. I believe that the dismissiveness and self-righteousness that has come from some people shows a disturbing lack of compassion. In general, it is far too common for some to be callous toward those people who commit or are even accused of crimes, many of whom are Black. Because most Blacks can identify with Michael Brown, the lack of empathy by some contributes to the anger and distrust that is already deeply seated because of the well-documented history of racism in this country. Therefore, I believe that the first step to improving race relations is to be compassionate above all else.
Seek The Truth
Jesus said “…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). It seems to me that Jesus would want us to seek the truth concerning race-relations in America. As I survey pundits, news feeds, blogs and editorials from left to right, I see that many people approach this issue with their point of view etched in stone and then compile the facts in a manner that confirms their point of view. I believe that if we were trying to be open-minded about these matters, we could see that these issues are very complex and that answers aren’t obvious.
My own experience is that even though most Blacks are law-abiding, the ones that aren’t make it bad for the rest of us. In many cases, as was the case in Ferguson, the people who police our communities are White. Given the anger and distrust that Blacks inherit from America’s history, the default position is skepticism about law enforcement’s desire to deal with us justly. In many cases Blacks would rather suffer in silence with the bad apples amongst them, than cooperate with the police. Given all of this, it becomes easier to see why some Blacks are unwilling to so easily or ever accept that this tragic incident was not another glaring example of their own negative experiences.
From having spoken earnestly with police officers about these issues, I’ve realized that the default position of some Blacks creates a standoffishness that in turn makes police officers apprehensive and more aggressive when they deal with us. Given that the nature of law enforcement already creates genuine concern for their own safety, this aggressiveness sometimes leads to unnecessarily heavy-handed tactics that ends up reinforcing in some Blacks what they already believed to be true. Additionally, cops have also admitted to me that there absolutely are bad apples amongst their own. Paradoxically, some cops would also rather suffer silently with these bad apples, than be ostracized amongst their fellow officers.
I wish more Whites would be able to consider the Black perspective before they dismiss the plight of Blacks. Likewise I wish more Blacks would be able to push through their legitimate anger and frustration and consider the possibility that not every incident involving the police is per se suspect.
Until we reach a point where we all approach these issues with compassion and the desire to genuinely seek the truth, I fear that we will soon be back to our regularly scheduled programs until it happens again.