shadyyang asked: Hi. I have been hearing and seeing a lot of news involving the Michael Brown and Eric Garner tragedies! As a white male who follows Jesus, what is your take on how we should respond to the mourning and anger of black Americans?
Unka Glen answered: Oh, I think we’ve heard quite enough from white males on this subject, haven’t we? Just this last week I spoke to my African American sister in Christ, who had spent many decades living in the Ferguson area. After that conversation, I’m pretty sure that very few white people have any idea what really happens in these neighborhoods.
It’s just two different worlds.
I can tell you, after doing inner-city ministry for the past 25 decades, if you think police misconduct is rare, or isolated to the places you see on TV, then you simply haven’t been where I’ve been, and seen what I’ve seen. One can even read the reports that our local Chicago police force kept on themselves, and were required by law to make public. They paint their own grim picture.
Nearly every African American or Latino American that I’ve known has told me at least one story of police conduct that is so extreme, it’s hard to believe. The best preacher I’ve ever heard, a man of deep respect in his community, a PhD. for Gods sake, once told us about his experience of having police dogs turned on him.
I’ve experienced a teeny, tiny, tiny bit of the same thing from working in these neighborhoods, getting pulled over, showing not only my driver’s license, but the chaplains I.D. badge that allows me into the jailhouse where I’m headed, and officers are emptying boxes of Bibles out onto the ground, digging through everything and barking, “Where’s the drugs? Tell me where you’re hiding the drugs!”
Like I said, hard to believe.
Of course it’s also fair to point out that politicians, both left and right, work hard to prove that they’re “tough on crime”. They’ve discovered that fear is a great way to get votes, and once they’ve made you afraid, they compel the police force to be more and more brutal, because, after all, people are scared out there.
The real question is, what attitude does the Lord require of us in situations like this?
Stand with the oppressed. Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” That’s pretty clear to me. Christians are meant to be there for people who are wronged and aren’t in power.
Seek understanding. One can try to understand how a cop can be so overwhelmed and untrained, operating in an environment of (apparently) little or no accountability, that he commits an act of heinous misconduct. One can also try to understand how people who’ve been abused over time, can feel pushed to the brink, and suddenly it’s just one thing to many.
Seek accountability. Inner city neighborhoods need more professional oversight, more specialized training, and much more accountability. The last thing we need in all this tension is a cartoonish movie character “bending the rules to get things done”. We need more brains, and less brutality. You can support the police, but you can’t support police misconduct.
Build bridges. If you’re white, and you’re a Christian, find a way, as a church, to reach out to a predominantly African American or Latino church. Ask THEM for guidance on how to proceed with achieving some unity. (Hint: the economic disparity between you should be the first item on the agenda, as scripture directs you in 2 Cor. 8:14-15).
Find the truth. You’ve said that you’ve been “seeing a lot of news” on this killing, but there isn’t much news in the news is there? Lots of opinions, and lots of emotionally charged images that keep jacking up the fear that drives this whole thing, and very few facts. Use this event as an excuse to find more reliable news sources, and avoid the rest.
Seek peace. There’s a certain type of individual who likes to take the “brave yet unpopular” viewpoint, when it’s not brave at all, it’s just what a jerk would think. This is attention-seeking behavior, and if you respond to it, you feed it, and it never goes away. Find people who are looking for smart solutions to bring harmony and healing.