October 18, 2015
Sunday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #405: Standing for What Matters
It seems that every week brings a fresh news story about the senseless killing of a citizen by an officer or group of officers. In this age of surveillance videos, body cameras, and a smartphone in every pocket, we often get multiple angles with which to make assessments about the situations that lead up to the incident and determine for ourselves if we feel the shooting was justified or not.
In the absence of any video evidence, as in one now-infamous case in Missouri, the public will gladly assume the complete innocence of the citizen while decrying the lack of restraint by the officer. When forensic evidence proves the narrative incorrect, the public finds a new victim to rally behind rather than change the narrative.
I don’t normally write about the news or events in the world, you may have noticed. It isn’t because I don’t know about them or because I don’t care about them. In truth, the ups and downs of society don’t typically affect me that much. Safely tucked away on my steel and concrete island paradise, in a climate-controlled wonderland where the currency is made of Top Ramen and Irish Spring, Folger’s and Old Spice, the world and its problems can seem so far away.
However, I do care about the condition of the world. I care because I’ll soon inherit it again and because those I love are in that world today.
The issue of police violence translates a bit differently within prison walls. Many housed here spent years in California’s worst prisons, in which daily assaults of staff and fellow inmates were the norm and allegiance to a gang was necessary for survival. Officers were the enemy, and they acted as such. Many friends of mine recall matter-of-factly the times they were beaten unconscious by correctional officers who wielded positions of authority and enforced stifling rules with violent punishment.
This false order and dictatorial form of governance instilled a permanent distrust for law-enforcement personnel and a warped sense of who is the bad guy. It is easy enough to dismiss our own wrongdoing if we can only find someone else who has done a greater wrong. If that can’t be done, we can perceive another’s faults to be worse than our own. This lets us off the hook of being the bad guy, and it makes living with our own faults that much easier.
In the wake of what is no doubt bona fide cases of police brutality, criminal negligence, poor judgment, and outright homicide, activists have taken to our city streets in acts of public disobedience in order to bring attention to the problem and to protest what seems to be a systematic attitude of indifference by city officials. These officials would sooner turn a blind eye to the culture of violence within some members of law enforcement than admit there may be a problem.
Though I acknowledge that there are some corrupt officers amongst the ranks of well-intentioned police personnel, I don’t subscribe to the notion that all cops are racist, the rhetoric that many activists would have us believe. In fact, spurred by white-officer-on-black-citizen violence, many have adopted the mantra “Black Lives Matter,” standing up against police brutality. Well, many, but not all. When a white kid was gunned down recently, this anti-cop rally fell silent, caught in the wrong color to sustain the argument supposedly at the heart of their campaign.
With my close black friends I debated whether members within the movement cared at all about the actions of law enforcement, or whether they were simply interested in inflaming racial tensions. It seemed they could only muster the courage to speak out if the citizen-victim had dark enough skin.
Then it happened. A black police officer was fatally shot while on duty. Surely the Black Lives Matter folk would be all over this, I thought. Here was a young man whose entire life was all about servitude and commitment to the highest values, senselessly cut down by a deranged criminal. Yet the silence was deafening. No outcry for his life. Apparently, this black life didn’t matter because it was covered in a blue uniform. Rather than rally behind the united ideal that every life should matter, what seemed to be a legitimate movement, a social cause, disintegrated into the shell of anti-establishmentarianism that it was from the start.
Bad behavior should never be excused, whether by rogue citizens or by corrupt officials. And in this free country, we all have the right to protest the unjust handling of such behavior when we deem fit. We also have the right to call for reforms within our justice system, to ask that those in positions of authority be held to the same moral code, the same standards, as those they are commissioned to serve.
However, it is time for us to care about all lives, not simply those to fit within our narrow framework of ideals. Whites in suburbia should care about those in the inner-city. Blacks should care about the lives of immigrants. And we all should care about the marginalized in our midst, whether that means correctional officers in my world or the unborn in yours.
Anyone can love those who are most like themselves. It is when we think beyond our own prejudices, worldview, and comfort zone that we care as our Creator cares, the One to whom All Lives Matter.