WHEN BLACK LIVES DON’T MATTER, NO ONE IS SAFE

 

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve been beaten black and blue when I hear of yet another police shooting of an unarmed black man.  Especially when that “man” is a 13 year old child with a BB gun, or a man lying on his back with both arms raised above his head, saying “Sir, please don’t shoot me!  I’m unarmed!  Please don’t shoot!”

And the policeman shoots him anyway.

I watched this video, and it broke my heart:

 

It’s telling that a baffled, hurting Charles had only one question to ask the police officer who shot him.  “Sir, why did you shoot me?” he asked.

And the policeman replied, “I don’t know.”

What chills me to the bone is the possibility that the police officer was telling the truth.  And that means none of us are safe.  How can a public safety officer, charged with keeping an entire community safe, shoot an obviously unarmed submissive man and not know why??

Former policeman and University of South Carolina law professor Seth Stoughton has an idea about that.

“I place a great deal of blame on the expansive “warrior mindset” that has become so highly esteemed in the law enforcement community…..enemies abound, and the job of the warrior is to fight and vanquish those enemies,” Stoughton said.

“That’s not the right attitude for police.  Our officers should be, must be, guardians, not warriors.  The goal of the guardian is not to defeat an enemy.  It is to protect the community…including the community member that is resisting the officer’s attempt to arrest them.  For the guardian, the use of avoidable violence is a failure, even if it satisfies the legal standard.” 

A report from the Police Executive Research Forum supports Stoughton’s claim.

“The typical police recruit spends 58 hours learning how to use his gun – and just 8 hours learning his department’s use of force policy…as a result of that lopsided training, many officers feel that slowing down a situation or deploying de-escalation techniques is ‘antithetical to a police culture.’”

Perhaps that is why 790 people, many of them unarmed, mentally ill, or people of color have already been killed this year.  Warriors take no prisoners, even unarmed, submissive ones.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and destroy.  I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…”  (John 10: 10-11)

Too many of our public safety officers act more like thieves come to steal away the lives of black males, than good shepherds willing to lay down their lives for all the people they are sworn to protect.

How can any of us taste the abundant life Jesus brings, when the law enforcement community’s default solution to conflict is a gun?  If black males can’t have access to the freedom from fear that is at the heart of our American dream, how can I?

How can anyone?

 

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9 thoughts on “WHEN BLACK LIVES DON’T MATTER, NO ONE IS SAFE

  1. Kathy,
    Thank you for this thought-provoking post. Seth Stoughton’s ideas about the differences between warrior and guardian mentalities are insightful and would seem to have wide application. If we all acted more as guardians than warriors, what a difference it would make. Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
    When we believe we belong to each other, we guard each other’s safety. When we forget we belong to each other, we become warriors. And you are right, no one should feel safe or isolated from this problem. Everyone pays the price for a world of too many warriors and not enough guardians. Deborah

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  2. Kathy
    Very insightful post. I like the comparison of guardian and warrior. And Deborah is correct that “when we forget we belong to each other, we become warriors.” There is an African saying that says “I am because we are and we are because I am.” For me this saying demonstrates the importance of community and that we are all one family, all co-creations of the same God. But there are too many that don’t believe that and/or who don’t consider black life a human life. We live in difficult times and only a salvific God can bring us through. We all must stay on our knees in prayer.
    Thanks for the great post.

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    • It’s hard to imagine that anyone, anywhere could consider a black life lesser than a white life. Yet I know that’s true, even though this attitude flies under the radar and is a master at camouflage.

      I guess I’m driven to understand the root causes of that enmity that seems less based on direct experience and more based upon some sort of dark instinct. Is it that we always have to have/find/create a scapegoat? I’ve also been paying attention to how darkness is almost always, even in scripture, associated with something negative like ignorance or evil. And yet, God is so often to be found there….

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  3. Kathy, another insightful post. Thank you for your direct and thoughtful approach to this topic. The “warrior” mentality Stoughton cites does seem to be a running theme over our police departments. Privilege tells me I have nothing to worry about, yet I think you’re correct in asserting that no one is safe if black lives don’t matter. The increased militarization of our police forces across the country is of grace concern. One need only look at the photos from recent protests to see that police come to these looking like they’re going into battle rather than going to keep the peace.

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    • I just kept asking myself, why is this happening? That led me to investigate how our officers are trained. I had no idea. I dated a policeman for awhile, and he was trained to quickly gain control of any situation (or die trying), but once in control his job was to de-escalate. He was trained during the 80’s. I think something changed between then, and now.

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  4. I recently saw a video from a military veteran calling out the double standard with regard to protocol. He speaks of how when he was in Afghanistan on deployment he wasn’t allowed to shoot civilians without weapons, yet it’s happening here in our own country. As my wife and I spoke about this, she commented that here in the States, the enemies are often the civilians. My comment back was that the civilians are the ones the police are supposed to be serving & protecting. It’s kind of both/and, isn’t it? Maybe cops are put in an impossible situation because they’re supposed to somehow know which people are threats to which other people. All this has me very curious about how our law enforcement is trained.

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    • You and me both! I found far more material than I could include in my initial post, so maybe I will follow up at some point with a more in-depth look at what some police departments are doing differently, to change the mindset of their officers. I believe the overwhelming majority of public safety officers to be people of goodwill, which does not fit with the increasing use of lethal force and militarization of the police. Is our culture somehow feeding them these values? Is this really, secretly, what we want somehow? That’s a scary thought. Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Chiling to say the least. I’m sure that the officer in Tulsa would have a hard time answering the question as to why she shot as well. Racism is imbedded in police culture and until this issue is addressed honestly then there will be no change. Thank you for your insights. The more we write about these issues the louder the call for change becomes.

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