It’s Not a Crime to Kill a Black Man

Eric Garner

I hit a breaking point today.

I’ve had moments of anger and frustration as I’ve read, talked to, and dealt with racist idiots from every background. Today’s breaking point stemmed from the announcement that the Grand Jury would not be indicting police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, a man who died as the result of being choked by the officer.

What makes this incident so poignant is that the entire thing was caught on video. Unlike the Ferguson incident, Pantaleo vs. Garner is not a case where we have only the survivor’s version to be corroborated or repudiated by the coroner’s report. It is intense, so if you aren’t keen on such content, you can skip the video.

Everyone can clearly see Officer Pantaleo choking Mr. Garner. It’s indisputable. It BOGGLES my mind that the grand jury would not indict. Many others are blown away. Those of us who are shocked and, yes, I’ll say it, outraged, by the behavior of the grand jury are crying out for justice. It is not just that a law enforcement officer can break departmental guidelines (the NYPD banned the chokehold in 1993 – NY cops have had over 20 years to learn this lesson) but that the officer’s behavior that led to the death of the civilian does not carry criminal punishment.

I confess, I am not a lawyer.

I have, however, seen every single episode of Law & Order (yes, all 20 seasons). That pretty much makes me an expert in all things New York and the criminal justice system (if I have to tell you I’m not serious you just need to close this right now – right now – don’t even read another word).

No, I’m no lawyer, but I’m an intelligent human. I know some big words like manslaughter and negligence. Even criminals in the middle of a felony can be charged with felony murder if someone dies in the commission of their felony – even when the death was not intentional. Since Mr. Garner died as the direct result of Officer Pantaleo’s actions, it seems just that the man responsible ought to suffer consequences.

Yes, this is a justice issue.

That means it OUGHT to be a Christian issue.

It took me all of 10 seconds to run a search in the Bible (ESV) and see that the word justice appears 138 times.

Genesis 18:19 ~ For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.

— How do you keep the way of the Lord? By doing righteousness and justice.

and

Exodus 23:6 ~ You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit.

— Everyone gets equal justice, regardless of wealth or status.

and

Deuteronomy 16:19 ~ You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous.

— Justice is meted out with equality without favoritism.

and

Psalm 82:3 ~ Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.

— The underdog and disenfranchised has a God-given right to justice.

and

Matthew 23:23 ~ Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

— Showy religion is no good without justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

Are you getting the picture? God cares about justice. We should care about justice.

But then come the rebuttals:

– “The Grand Jury decision stands – you should accept it and move on” (I was actually told this today).

This is foolishness. Grand juries are made up of fallible humans. They don’t speak with divine authority. They are not the end-all of the justice system. No matter how hard we try, there is always something in us that skews how we see things. We approach all of life with an interpretive lens. The difficult thing in moving past racial tensions is to learn to see others through their own lenses rather than our own.

If a system has flaws and errors it is our obligation to speak up and to fix those errors, not to sit back and let injustice rule the day and try to “move on.”

– This is only an issue because of race-baiters who want a “war on whites.”

This is not foolishness. This is the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard. Eric Garner didn’t need to die. Eric Garner shouldn’t have died. The fact that he died and that the criminally negligent perpetrator is not being charged is an abortion of justice, the kind of justice God repeatedly calls us to pursue.

This is not a race issue. This is a humanity issue. It should not have mattered what ethnic groups were involved. It should not matter what YOUR ethnic background is. This story should stir us all.

This is not a race issue. This is a humanity issue.

What saddens me about white America’s response (yes, I’m going to make a broad, sweeping generalization) is that, rather than listening to the outcry of the Black community and those who stand in solidarity, many are trying to deflect. Deflecting is an argumentation technique where a person who feels attacked/criticized tries to steer the conversation in another direction RATHER than addressing the issue at hand. We do it all the time. My wife and I do it to each other. We now call each other on it. She’ll tell me, “You’re deflecting. Can we talk about what I’m saying?”

White America is deflecting. Rather than listening we throw up statistics and bluster, “Well, why don’t you make a fuss about black-on-black crime?” or “What about the little white boy that was killed by three evil brown-skinned thugs?”

That’s deflecting.

Instead of addressing the issue at hand we try to make it about other issues.

Stop it.

From a biblical point of view, Jesus addresses it best when he tells us that we ought to treat other people the way that we would like to be treated.

It’s that little thing we sometimes call THE GOLDEN RULE. If I want people to hear me and care about injustice being done to me, I should listen and care about injustice done to others. Stop looking at the issue through a persecuted white lens and start to see that sometimes injustice actually DOES happen to minorities. Imagine that!

In all of my legal expertise I have no idea where things will go from here. In my reading of the Bible I can tell you that we need to change our lenses and treat others the way we want to be treated.

We need to be people that pursue justice – for every race.

Do me a favor and share this post, would you? This is a message that everyone needs to hear.

Related Posts:
Reflections on Racism From a Mixed-Race Couple
Just One More White Man Commenting On Ferguson
It’s Great Being White!
My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black

Just One More White Man Commenting on Ferguson

I know, I know. So many people all talking about Ferguson. I even made a joke that today 50 million bloggers would be posting, telling us all how to think about Ferguson (and I would, probably, be one of the 50 million).

ferguson rioter

I really wrestled with posting on the issue (obviously I caved). But part of me really dislikes being told I can’t do something, and there was an overwhelming feeling on social media today that white commentators should just be quiet and listen rather than speaking.

I understand the sentiment behind that feeling and I agree that we SHOULD be listening to the stories of other people. Still, asking me not to speak because of the color of my skin is ALSO racist. My skin color doesn’t affect my brain or my spirituality. If pastors were not allowed to speak on issues they had no direct involvement in then we could never preach on a lot of topics. Never having been married to more than one woman I could speak on polygamy. Having never been divorced I couldn’t speak to the biblical view on divorce. You get the point? We speak on the biblical perspective on things even when we don’t have direct experience because we don’t preach our experiences – we preach God’s revelation. That means we can speak to any issue when we come at it from a biblical perspective.

Ferguson and race-relations is no different. I won’t speak to the legal and justice issues, because I’m not a lawyer. I will speak to the idea of biblical behavior, since the Bible is what I know.

We’re all getting it wrong. There seems to be (I’m going to use the word overwhelming again for the second time in a single post) OVERWHELMING feeling that the riots are justified behavior. They are not – at least not from a biblical point of view.

The Bible calls us to exemplary behavior, even when we are mistreated by harsh and unfair people. There is no Christian justification for the Ferguson riots. Before you accuse me of being racist, please note that I also feel that white people were not biblically justified in violent revolution against England (a position I know MANY disagree with).

There is never biblical justification for violent and riotous behavior in order to bring social change. The supreme example of this is Jesus, who never participated in such behavior. When Peter was ready to riot and drew his sword, cutting off a man’s ear, Jesus told him to simmer down.

There is no biblical excuse for the riots in Ferguson.

But the rioters aren’t the only ones getting it wrong. Many of us watching and responding are also getting it wrong. Instead of reacting with compassion and trying to understand the anger and the hurt driving the riots, many get defensive and are content simply to point fingers at bad behavior.

But we need to do better. From a biblical point of view, we are called to care for the outsider, the alien, and the disenfranchised (this is actually an Old Testament AND New Testament concept). Pointing fingers at bad behavior without trying to understand what is motivating the behavior is not seeking to care for the disenfranchised. When the disenfranchised try to tell those in power, “This isn’t right!” the correct response is not, “Sit down and behave!” The correct response is, “Let me help you pursue justice and righteousness.”

This does NOT excuse the riotous behavior. It is simply to say we must do better at caring for those who are not feeling justice being done to them.

There is no easy road forward. There is a lot of anger on both sides that prevents the black and white communities from having real conversations with each other. But God calls us to pursue peace – to be peacemakers. A pastor friend of mine once told me, “The peace that Jesus brought was a costly peace. The peace that He calls US to bring is going to have to cost us, too.”

Until we’re willing to pay that cost and REALLY pursue peace and justice, the conflict will never go away.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback, so feel free to respond. Just keep it polite and your comments won’t be deleted. 😉

Also, if this post resonated with you in any way, please share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and any other method you personally use.

Blessings!

Related Posts:
Reflections on Racism From a Mixed-Race Couple
It’s Great Being White
My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black
America: Still Racist After All These Years