The black American experience can never be understood without recognizing the impact racial injustice has had on the black community. Any decent book on American history will document the centuries of oppression that galvanized blacks to fight for their basic human rights. The struggle against all of the numerous manifestations of racism was, essentially, a struggle to be seen as fully human. Within the souls of black folk was birthed a godly desire to see the image of God respected in all of their own people.
Blacks fought hard to procure many of the rights that whites took for granted, and all subsequent generations still recognize the need to guard these rights and continue the fight to improve the quality of life for blacks in America. In recent history, violence towards blacks perpetrated by law enforcement has caused a new movement to originate within the black community. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is our generation’s response to the ongoing problem of police brutality.
Historically, many whites regarded the Negro as subhuman. This led to the wanton slaying of blacks basically at will. One example of this in American history is the period known as the lynching era (late 19th century to 1968), which saw 3446 blacks killed by being hanged from a tree. Racist southerners accused blacks of crimes, and lynch mobs would kill these “offenders” even when no crime was committed at all. It is important to note that the height of the lynching era is dated to 1968—less than 50 years ago. This time period shows us that black bodies have been devalued by unruly, racist policing before.
Unfortunately, some of these same trends continue today. There are too many examples of blacks being abused and/or killed by police officers when no crime has been committed. Moreover, justification for overly aggressive policing is given on the grounds that blacks are thuggish, therefore deserving of whatever actions a police officer takes. Sadly, the portrayal of blacks as brutish and threatening is an accepted historical stereotype that permeates American society and affects race relations. The cultural presupposition that blacks are a threat to society becomes dangerously apparent when some police interact with members of the black community.
Therefore, while recognizing that policemen are indispensable to uphold order in a civil society, and that most policemen do their jobs well, BLM seeks to put policies in place that restrict those officers that do not seek to dignify their suspects, but rather choose to engage in excessive force, unnecessarily. All people concerned with the well-being of their neighbor should respect what the BLM movement is trying to accomplish. However, the movement as a whole is being unfairly criticized.
Presidential hopeful Chris Christie is not a fan of the Black Lives Matter movement. He has made it clear that if he wins the presidency, leaders in the movement won’t even get a chance to meet and discuss their grievances with him. His forceful rejection of the movement is grounded in his claim that it is calling for the death of police officers.
Regrettably, his position on BLM is willfully misinformed and his remarks completely reckless.
As of this writing, Christie sits at 3 percent nationally for the Republican Presidential Nomination. Since he is hardly a threat to win the nomination with those polling numbers, it doesn’t look like he’ll be president any time soon. Yet, Christie’s mischaracterization of BLM as hostile to cops reflect the sentiment of other conservatives toward the movement, some of whom are Christian leaders. Critics of BLM believe that if the movement criticizes how policing is done in America, it must be anti-police. Moreover, critics have identified some who claim to be in the movement that have been caught in hateful protests.
But does the misguided ranting of a few represent the entire BLM movement?
BLM has documented their policy demands to curb police brutality in Campaign Zero. Not one demand is that police be harmed in any way. Christie and other critics of BLM are welcome to disagree with the demands, but to misrepresent them is disingenuous and unhelpful. Furthermore, just as those who defend police rightfully point out that the actions of some officers do not reflect or truly represent the good work most officers do, I would ask that critics of BLM apply the same standard to BLM, and recognize that the negative actions of some who claim to be in the movement do not represent the views and goals of the majority.
For the sake of truthfulness, BLM cannot be characterized as a lawless group of people calling for the death of police officers. Members of this movement include weeping mothers, students, clergy, community leaders and many other types of concerned citizens. These concerned citizens are hardworking people who in no way would seek to break the law. As a black Christian, I consider myself a part of BLM. My faith teaches me to earnestly desire to be at peace with all people—including police (Heb. 12:14; Rom. 12:18).
Scripture says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). I wholeheartedly believe that if progress is to be made on issues surrounding race, we must at the very least be willing to listen to each other. If the Body of Christ is to be an agent of healing and restoration in a broken world, we cannot adopt an attitude that dismisses the concerns of others without taking the time to hear their grievances and seek the common good. If we are going to be peacemakers in our world, we have to seek to cooperate with people—even with those whom we disagree.
Christ was at odds with sinful humanity, but because of his great love for us chose to empathize with us. The Eternal Son chose to be in solidarity with man by becoming one of us, even while all of mankind spurned him. And because Christ chose to do this, he can relate to us deeply as our great High Priest (Heb. 4:15). If Christians are seeking to help those who are suffering and in pain, we must adopt this same attitude.
Our faith calls us to advocate for the disenfranchised. We cannot do this if we do not purposefully seek to enter into their world and relate to their pain. Instead of choosing to dismiss the BLM movement, I’m calling our critics to choose to do the harder work of earnestly trying to understand what our concerns are. Our shared humanity may cause us to relate to each other in ways we never even thought were possible.