Holiday decorations abound and one local radio station is already broadcasting carols 24/7, but I’m having a hard time catching the spirit of the season given recent events in our country.
I’ve struggled with what, if anything, I had to add to the national discourse around the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice (and so many others). What could I, a white man soon approaching his 60th year on the planet, have to say about this situation that hasn’t already been said by so many others, likely much more eloquently than I could ever hope? Do I have a right to weigh in on realities that others, including people I know well, live with on a daily basis when I, privileged with a particular skin color, am protected from the same realities and fear for how I or my children or grandchildren will be treated, particularly by people in authority? How could I, when raised in a community and family culture that held authority in high regard, have a vantage point of balance?
In the end what won out in this internal debate was this question: “How can you not say something?” So, given the caveat that my reality is my reality – which certainly impacts the depth of my understanding – I venture forth.
I cannot understand, in all the pondering I’ve done on these cases, how it is that in the year 2014 people are dying in situations where they are clearly unarmed, have a toy gun (and aren’t threatening anyone), or are selling individual cigarettes on the street. How do we absorb the violent take down of our brothers (and sisters) with faces being smashed into the sidewalk or street while pleading “I can’t breathe” – all when they had not inflicted violence on others – and not be appalled? How do we rationalize the disparity in arrests, shootings, and deaths among minorities compared to whites in similar circumstances. . . and allow the patterns to continue?
I’ll be the first to acknowledge I don’t understand the stress of the daily beat of law enforcement. I can’t imagine the kinds of life and death decisions they are sometimes required to make in split seconds. But is this really the best we can hope for as a result of current law enforcement training and professional development? REALLY?
And then I recalled the situation one of our children faced in High School. Believing that he was falsely accused of passing another vehicle in an unsafe area, we supported him arguing his case in court rather than simply paying the fine. (We saw this as an amazing learning opportunity and, since he was, and is, a well-spoken young man, we felt he could handle himself in this setting.) He did a phenomenal job of representing himself, providing compelling arguments for his perspective. His self-guided defense was complete with pictures of the section of road where the “transgression” occurred. But what happened as the judge rendered his verdict was troubling . . . and has flashed through my mind often in the past few weeks. He said, in essence: “You have made a compelling case. If the officer had to prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt, he’d have failed. However, in this case, I have to go on the fact that the officer has 15+ years experience and knows better.” A perfect opportunity to teach a young man that the justice system works and treats the accused and the law enforcement professional equally was totally lost. Because the officer “knew better.”
To what degree does our entire judicial system rely on those within the system “knowing (and DOING) better?” And how are we assured they, in fact, do? This is what I find myself struggling to resolve in passing days.
We have so much work to do as a nation on this front. SO. MUCH. WORK.
So, in this season where being joyful is billed as the norm, I’m just not feeling it yet. The Spirit has some work to do.