The last twenty-four hours have been immensely painful and frustrating for me. I, along with millions of Americans, have been mourning the slaying of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. In the case of Sterling, videos show him being tasered, tackled to the ground, and ultimately shot multiple times, despite never posing a threat to the lives of the officers. In all honesty, I grow weary of these shootings. The list of black males who have been killed by the same officers who took an oath to protect and serve them continues to grow. I often have recurring thoughts that I may end up on the list.
As a black person in America, it is increasingly evident that I have no other choice but to view the police as an organized gang, sanctioned by the government. I honestly couldn’t tell you what would scare me more—being surrounded by the boys in blue or the Crips in blue. This is not to say that all police officers are criminals, but it is to say that, as a black man, when confronted by a police officer, I cannot assume under any circumstances that this officer will honor my life and respect the God whose image it bears by not seeking to hurt or kill me. It saddens me to say this, but it is true.
Admittedly, some part of me wants to clock out and cowardly disengage from the now all too frequent reports of police misconduct. Why, you ask? Because the problem of police brutality is complex, and solving it requires the ones who have all the power—the politicians, the judicial system, the police departments, and the officers themselves—to admit that there is even a problem in the first place. And the powers that be have, by their action, refused to acknowledge the problem. So with each officer’s acquittal, with each grand jury decision not to even bring an indictment, I lose a little hope for a brighter day. The temptation to throw my hands up in hopeless despair is at an all-time high.
My frustration is compounded as I listen to the same old tired excuses recycled by white conservatives to implicitly justify Sterling’s execution. They exclaim, “Oh, well why did he resist arrest?” “Why did he have a gun on him?” “He’s a convicted felon; he’s no saint.” It seems to me that no person in America gets a more thorough background check than a slain black man at the hands of law enforcement. If a black victim of police aggression once got detention in elementary school for skipping class, conservative media outlets will report it in order to portray him as a thug deserving of death. In the eyes of some whites, a black person who once committed a crime is no longer worthy of having their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness protected. There is no chance for repentance; no chance for personal redemption—only the lingering assumption of guilt that can at any point justify his unlawful death.
I grow weary.
Sadly, as I observe some of my white brethren in the church—the ones who, unlike the world, know the Lord and His commands—I find even more of a reason for discouragement. Regarding race relations and police brutality, many church leaders and laymen alike range from racist to, at best, apathetic disengagement, choosing instead to criticize the #BlackLivesMatter movement without even asking if the movement raises any legitimate issues concerning the treatment of black people at the hands of police.
Therefore, I am of the opinion that the church is in need of another major Reformation, not one centered on the doctrine of Justification, but one centered on the doctrine that all people have been created in the image and likeness of God. We need a new generation filled with leaders who are willing to nail ninety-five theses to the doors of churches all over America, demanding that we have conversations exploring how we can expound and propagate this truth until it becomes embedded into the very fabric of all of our churches and, by God’s grace, the culture at large. Because all human life must be honored. Should the Lord bring this to pass, we will then create a culture that recognizes black persons as sacred. Until black bodies are recognized as possessing the same image of God as white bodies, the problem of police brutality will continue.