First, I express my sympathy to the families of the slain and wounded, and to the Dallas police department who lost loved ones and work mates in the tragic shooting of July 7. You are called to protect and serve your community. While doing so, you were targeted and slain by a sniper incensed over police brutality. This act of shooting officers is horrendous, horrific, and brutal. However, it was not unexpected.
When a distinct people group believes themselves targeted by police brutality and lack of justice, the group will arise in ways both healthy and horrible. “We are sick and tired of the killings of young men and women in our communities. It is up to us to take a stand and demand that they ‘stop killing us,'” Beyonce, a wildly popular, creole-African American pop singer appealed to her fans on her website.
Let me take a stand too well beyond the expression of sympathy to the families of those wounded and slain and to the Dallas police department. The deaths of both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile suggest yet again that police departments’ treatment of black men is too often violent beyond the means necessary to control a situation.
To refresh our memories of the death of the two black men in the last week, please recall: Cell phone footage saw 37-year-old Sterling shot and killed by two Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police officers after pinning him to the ground outside of a local convenience store early Tuesday. The death has spurred a civil rights investigation by the Justice Department. Castile, 32, was killed after a police officer opened fire on him during a traffic stop in Minnesota on Wednesday night. The aftermath of the death was shown in a Facebook Live video shot by Castile’s girlfriend, who was a passenger in the vehicle.
Hear again Beyonce: “We’re going to stand up as a community and fight against anyone who believes that murder or any violent action by those who are sworn in to protect us should consistently go unpunished. These robberies of lives make us feel helpless and hopeless but we have to believe that we are fighting for the rights of the next generation, for the next young men and women who believe in good. Fear is not an excuse. Hate will not win,” she adds. “We all have the power to channel our anger and frustration into action. We must use our voices to contact the politicians and legislators in our districts and demand social and judicial changes.”
I agree. And I agree with the premise of Black Lives Matter that it’s hard to be treated consistently with respect and dignity in this land when one’s skin is black. This must change. Three weeks ago I attended synod, the yearly meeting of the Christian Reformed Church. An African American female delegate mother explained the challenge of raising her black teenage son in a suspicious white world. She said, “I have to tell my teenage son who recently began to drive how to respond when pulled over by white police officers. A. Keep both hands on the top of the steering wheel in plain view. B. Make sure your friends keep their hands in plain view too. C. Behave politely. D. When the police ask for your registration, make sure to make it clear that you intend now to reach for the glove box to get your registration. E. Do all of this with no sudden moves.
I wept at her testimony. And I recalled how my white teenage son one week earlier had a minor fender bender at an intersection. It was his fault. He lost focus. The other driver crept up a few more feet at a stop light. My son thought the light had changed, and it was time to roll. BAM. The St. John police were called. The other driver had no damage to his car. Our car had minor plastic trim damage. The other driver was livid and wanted my son cited. The officer reminded the man that his own car had no damage, and the damage was slight to my son’s vehicle. The driver continued to argue. The officer told my son he could go. Caleb left to the sound of the other driver, roughly 70 + years old and white, still arguing for punishment for a polite, embarrassed white boy. To hear tell, the African American community’s interaction with officers is not always so tender and kind. I’m thankful for how the discerning officer handled the situation. But would it have been so, if the driver doing the damage had been an African American teenage male?
To the police of all communities, please report and weed out the bad apples from your ranks who are too quick to body slam, rough up, wield a baton, or pull a trigger. The African American community is angry. In this white man’s opinion, rightly so. We are not defined by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. May your character as officers, sworn to protect and serve, be at a professional level no matter the skin color of those whom you police. The Dallas shooting was horrific, but it wasn’t unexpected.