As a black woman and Reformed Christian, the past week has been rough. As I’ve tried to process the shootings of black men by police officers, compounded by the sniper who took out five police officers where I live in Dallas, I find the Internet full of opinions. People are drawn to simple answers. But as Christians, I see four things we should remember as we continue to process these terrible events.
I’ve noticed two extremes. First, there are those who see every victim as deserving of the treatment because, after all, the police are there to protect and serve. On the other hand, there are those who only see a black man getting shot, which translates into a wholesale police culture gunning for black people.
I suggest it is not that simple. So, as a black woman and Christ-follower, I offer four observations.
1. Experience shapes our response.
We need to step back and evaluate how our experiences play into these divergent perspectives. If your experience with law enforcement has been relatively positive, it makes sense that you might have a hard time imagining a cop abusing power or using unnecessary force. However, for people who have had different experiences, the perspective will be that unarmed victims are innocent, even when there is a criminal record. And given the history of injustices against blacks in America, it’s reasonable that a sort of PTSD settles in, creating an exaggerated sense that these incidences demonstrate that there is a police culture en masse.
Certainly there are communities that experience a culture of police that seems to work against them. And let’s acknowledge that people living in their own communities can best speak what transpires in them. People outside the communities shouldn’t be the first voices to speak about what it going on.
2. Police have the difficult duty to protect and serve.
I get that people, and especially blacks, are angry. I recognize that there is a police culture to examine with suspicion of abuse of authority. But put yourself in the shoes of those who are called to maintain law and order.
The outcry I keep hearing is that criminal backgrounds of unarmed victims don’t matter. Yes, it probably does. If I were a cop, and I knew I was approaching someone who had a history with law enforcement, especially of violence, I probably would have a heightened sense of expectation that person might get violent with me and act accordingly. Police actually do shoot people in a commission of a crime and are conditioned to dealing with criminals, which I’m pretty sure conditions how they deal with people they perceive to be a threat. The question is whether they give all people the equal benefit of doubt.
3. Christians love and pursue truth.
Because of the sensitive nature of police brutality against persons of color, it is quite natural that those most affected by it will tend to exaggerate. Countless times I’ve seen people recite how many black people are getting shot by police. While we’re counting how many black people are getting shot by police, I think in obligation of the ninth commandment, we probably want to compare that to all people who are getting shot, armed versus unarmed (also the incidences we know about compared to all incidences).
Though the information available is not as comprehensive as it should be, these numbers actually do matter if we’re going to make a case that police have it out for black folks. Christians have an obligation to pursue truth.
4. Not everyone is given the benefit of the doubt.
A common retort to the cries over unjust killings has been that if people are compliant with police these kinds of things won’t happen. I’m left to ask how then do you explain a black man who was allegedly compliant being gunned down? It leads me to ask how many black men are not given the benefit of the doubt when being compliant and informing officers what they are doing. Both statistics and perception are worthy of examination.
In all this, we Christians must remember our kinship in Christ. One of the most disheartening responses I’ve seen play out in these events is the fractures they have caused within the body of Christ. It is vitally important to us to remember that our kingdom identity and commitment must outweigh any desire we have to align with simple narratives.
About the Author
Lisa Robinson is a member of Town North Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Dallas and a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary. She is also a non-profit professional, anti-poverty advocate, and writer at theothoughts.com.