I don’t usually use my blog for political statements outside of pro-life activism. Today is a little different though. I wanted to collect a few thoughts on the recent shootings, and hopefully add something constructive and cogent to the conversation.
I’m not going to comment directly on the shootings other than to say mourn with those who mourn, and mourn from a place of deep confidence that justice will be carried out perfectly by our God. And then act, in whatever small way you can, to be a comfort to those who mourn, and an advocate for those who need you.
When we talk about police violence against minorities, it is important that we not discount the fact that it is oftentimes (but not always) targeted toward minorities. This post isn’t to discuss race or racism beyond saying that while I don’t think it is the root cause of all police violence, it does seem to be the catalyst in many situations. At any rate, according to this survey by the DOJ,
Studies conducted across two midwestern States (one in Illinois and one in Ohio), for example, suggest that a significant minority of police officers have observed police using “considerably” more force than necessary when apprehending a suspect. In the Illinois study, more than 20 percent of the officers surveyed reported having observed this type of abuse; in the Ohio study, 13 percent of respondents had seen such abuse.
Moreover, both studies suggest that police harassment of minorities is not an isolated occurrence. More than 25 percent of officers surveyed in the Illinois study and 15 percent of those in the Ohio study stated that they had observed an officer harassing a citizen “most likely” because of his or her race.
NB: These are officer reactions to what they allege is racism in their own departments. That’s telling.
Another quote from the survey:
Therefore, improper force was used in 38 percent of encounters that involved force. As the author of that study, Robert Worden, stated, ‘[I]ncidents in which improper force was used represent a substantial proportion of the incidents in which any force (reasonable or improper) was used.
This is, I think, the deeper issue. In over a third of police encounters which involve force, that force was later deemed improper. Police in America may not use force often, but when they have the historical trend is that 1/3 of the time they use it in an unjustified manner. To understate the obvious: It seems like this might be a problem. I highly recommend you read the whole survey and come to your own conclusions.
Now, how can we respond to tragedies like these? As a citizen, my response is skepticism.
Our justice system rests on an explicit assumption: That the individual who allegedly broke the law is innocent until proven guilty. The implicit assumption, then, is that the State, who is bringing charges against this individual, is wrong. They are asserting that the individual is guilty; we begin with the assumption they are innocent. Both cannot be correct: Therefore, we must assume the State is wrong until they prove themselves right.
How does that apply to use of force? We should assume it was improper until it is proven beyond reasonable doubt that it was not. We should assume the State acted out of line because the citizen gets the benefit of the doubt. We should not immediately defend police actions because (as shown before) they have gotten it wrong at least 1/3 of the time.
This does not mean we have to hate cops, call for their deaths (which have been equally tragic and we should pray for justice on their account as well), or anything negative. It means only that we apply our starting premise (citizens are innocent until proven guilty) consistently and doubt the State. If the State proves its case, we can move on. But until then, skepticism should be our default position.
As a Christian, my response is sorrow, grief, repentance, and then joy.
When I watched Philando Castile bleed out, when I watched Alton Sterling’s feeble hand try to staunch his own bleeding, I wept. I wept because someone who bears the Imago Dei was just cut off from the living. Even though they were sinners like me, God took no pleasure in their death (Ezekiel 18:23). So I wept. And as I said before, it is good and right to mourn with those who mourn.
But why joy? “Because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Or, as Psalm 9 puts it:
the Lord sits enthroned forever;
he has established his throne for justice,
and he judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with uprightness.