Where are the protesters for Brian Moore?

*This post was originally drafted on May 3rd, when Brian Moore was in critical condition. Out of fear for his fate, and then respect for his life, I have held off posting this. While any discussion of police actions in the U.S. right now risks appearing politically motivated, I still believe this is a question which needs to be addressed (though I don’t think the question needs to be asked).*

By all accounts I have read, Brian Moore, a 5 year veteran of the NYPD, was a hero who served bravely to protect his fellow New Yorkers. His death is a tragedy, and the thousands who showed their support for him at his funeral understood we can never repay the ultimate sacrifice he made.

Everyday, thousands of brave police officers like Brian Moore patrol our neighborhoods serving our communities and keeping us safe. They regularly have to approach strangers’ vehicles, praying the driver has no ill intent. They have to serve warrants to the homes of known violent offenders. They have to step into the middle of highly charged domestic disputes. They have to remain calm in the face of outraged demonstrators (they have to). And they have to be ready to put their life on the line to defend people who rarely appreciate the level of dedication required by our law enforcement officers. Thank God that the vast majority of police officers are heroes.

Sadly, like many before him, Brian Moore was killed in the line of duty. He was murdered in cold blood. If Demetrius Blackwell truly fired the shot that hit Officer Moore, I trust the courts will render a decisive verdict against him following due process.

From time to time, when the media is focused on the alleged abuses of various police departments, friends of mine will remind me of officers who have been the victims of civilian violence. They will often ask, “Why isn’t the media reporting their deaths?” “Why don’t they get national coverage?” They will often highlight the races of those involved, “White man shoots black officer” or “White officer shot by a black man, Where’s the media outrage?”

On the surface, these questions seem legitimate. Isn’t it media bias to give wall-to-wall coverage of a black civilian who is shot (or tazed, or wrestled to the ground), but silence when an officer is killed? While there are always various agendas at play anytime the media reports anything, I do not think this question or the question titling this post are necessary. I do think it is necessary to question the question.

The main reason I think these questions are unnecessary and misguided (and often reflect subconscious white supremacy) is that no one with any social credibility ever defends cop-killers (except their attorneys). Nor should they. If someone has intentionally killed or injured an officer of the law, they should be charged, arrested,  convicted, and punished (according to due process). And virtually everyone agrees. Certainly the law enforcement agencies and prosecutors responsible to seek justice agree that cop-killer should be punished. No cop-killer is given a paid administrative leave (nor should they be). No one calls for patience for a thorough investigation until all the facts are known before a cop-killer is arrested. No one speculates whether or not they had legitimate fear for their life. No one speculates if they saw the officer reach for his/her waistband before they shot. Demetrius Blackwell was rightly (if the identification was accurate) arrested within two hours, and he was rightly charged within 24 hours. What he did was wrong, illegal, immoral, and a threat to his community’s peace and tranquility. He took the life of a young man created in the Image of God. He should be given all the protections of due process and then tried and punished accordingly. (If, indeed, Blackwell was the shooter.)

Contrast that with nearly any killing of a civilian by a police officer. The officer of the law is nearly always given the benefit of the doubt.

Walter Scott was killed on April 4th, but officer Slager was not arrested until April 7th, only after video evidence of the killing was released. Freddie Gray was assaulted on April 12th and died on April 19th. The officers involved were not suspended until April 21st. On May 1st, Gray’s death was ruled a homicide (a medical, not legal, classification) and the police report was determined to be falsified. Following that determination, six officers involved were charged and arrested, twenty days after their alleged crime took place. Yet the police officer’s union called this action a “rush to judgment.” (Charging and arresting someone is not a rush to “judgment”; they are still presumed innocent until proven guilty).

If the NYPD took twenty days to arrest Blackwell, after his crime, the people of New York absolutely would riot. And they absolutely should if it took that long, especially if they knew who committed the crime while they conducted a “thorough investigation”.

On August 5th, 2014, John Crawford was killed by police while shopping for a BB gun. No officer was ever charged. Twelve-year-old, Tamir Rice was shot for playing with a BB gun following a >2 second encounter with police on November 22, 2014. The investigation is ongoing; no one is in custody.

Where are the protesters for Brian Moore? There aren’t any. Even given the outrageous nature of the crime against him, they aren’t necessary. The community rightly showed strong support for the fallen officer, with thousands of citizens and officers attending his funeral. When an officer is killed, the community s/he serves should show public support. But you won’t see them protest. They don’t have to. Their killers are prosecuted as fast as they can be arrested.

“Protest” is what we do when those with authority appear to fail those who have trusted them for protection. “Protest” is necessary when power appears abusive. “Protest” is necessary when normal democratic processes of representative government no longer function in any way that resembles justice.

The murder of Brian Moore was an egregious crime. The swift response of the NYPD was a victory for justice. Protests are unnecessary and won’t happen. The demonstrations of support were sincere and poignant. But if his killer was walking the streets until a full and thorough investigation had been completed, the public response would rightly be far more visceral.

Oh to be 15 again…

Another video has surfaced highlighting the tensions in this nation between our Black citizens and law enforcement agencies.

For many, myself included, this video clearly shows an officer using excessive force to detain a child. I would say that is a statement of fact, not an interpretation of the film. But being post-modern and all, I know there is no pure-fact…

Others, particularly residence of the community, ask for us to not take that seven minute video out of context, and realize the broader narrative of a party out of control, and an officer (one of twelve) trying to regain control of the situation. To be blunt, I think that is a distraction. Nobody outside of that community cares one crap about the home owner’s association’s rules for their private pool. We can let them deal with the fallout of what new policies they need to put in place to regulate who can and can’t be there. I don’t care.

I do care about the young boys and girls, especially the young girl dragged to the ground and sat on by a grown man. What makes it worse that that this wasn’t any grown man. It was an officer of the law sworn to serve and protect his community.

And while I can’t pretend to related to that child’s situation, I do remember somethings about being 15.

I remember the excitement of being invited to a pool party. I remember the fun of jumping into the refreshing, highly chlorinated water. I don’t remember anything about the rules and regulations of the HOA about how many people could come to those parties. I never asked. I was 15. Why on earth would I even think to ask if it was against the rules for me to go to a party I was invited to? And if one of the neighbors had given me crap about being there, I don’t know how I would I have reacted.

I remember the embarrassment and shame of being yelled at by an adult. Even being called out in a group of my peers for being to chatty at youth group would put my social interaction gears into overdrive as my little brain tried to figure out how to respond. Fortunately I was never scolded by someone with a badge and a gun.

I remember the total paralyzing frustration of being given contradictory instructions. I knew I could be reprimanded either way, since whatever I did I would be “non-compliant”. If you watch the McKinney video again, pay attention to the contradictory commands from the officers. “Don’t take off…” (0:45), “Get on the ground…” (0:51), “Get your a$$es out of here…” (1:08), “I told you to stay right here…” (2:11), “Right now you’re staying…” (2:16), “Get out of here…” (2:27), “Get your a$$ gone…” (2:45), “Get your a$$ on the ground… (3:20). These were just a few of the profanity laden command spouted off during the video. And while they were not all directed at the same person or group of people, I know as a teen I would not have been sure what I was supposed to do if I was there. I would have just been frustrated. (I still get frustrated when my boss will yell “get these deliveries on the road” and “get that phone” within the span of ten seconds). I may have said the same thing I said to my boss (illadvisedly), “The more you yell the less I hear.”

I remember the consuming outrage I experienced whenever I learned one of my female friends had been assaulted. I remember promising myself that I would lay my life on the line if I ever saw a woman getting attacked by a man. And I can only image how emasculating it must have felt for all the young men there to sit helplessly while they witnessed a violent assault on a young girl. God gave them the instinct to jump in and defend her. And when they even had the thought of trying to help, they were threatened with lethal force.

I’ve never been black. But I have seen enough videos of police to know that there are officers who believe black+waistband=threat. That young girl was black, and had on little more than a waistband, and even as Casebolt sat on her back, she was told to stop fighting (4:45). She wasn’t fighting. She was helpless. And in the eyes of many, had she lifted so much as a finger to defend herself, lethal force could have been excused by the courts. She doesn’t live in a bubble. She knows what can happen if you try to defend yourself. She will never forget the terror she experienced that day. And no. She didn’t learn any kind of lesson from that show of force. She just learned that no matter what, you run from the police. Despite what the actually coherent officer tried to instruct at the 0:40 mark.

So, you can say all you want about how the party got out of control. And if you live in that neighborhood, go to the HOA meeting and figure out how you want your pool run. But stop telling us that if we had been there, and seen everything, we would be okay with police cussing out kids, aiming loaded weapons at them, and throwing children to the ground. I don’t want to be okay with that. Ever.

That Time When Jesus Started A Riot

The one where Jesus was not content with peaceful protests.

The Reboot

The murder of young Michael Brown has grieved and enraged an entire community. Many of them took to the streets in response. Peaceful prayer vigils and protests were met with armed policemen, tanks, and tear gas. Violence broke out. The response has only gotten worse.

As Christians, we are often urged to denounce such demonstrations. This is due to Jesus’ admonition to “turn the other cheek.” Jesus is presented as meek and mild, friendly and full of compassion. And while this is not inaccurate, a vital Gospel account brings this notion concerning Jesus into question. Near the end of his life, Jesus enters into the sacred Temple in Jerusalem.[1] He proceeds to chase people out, block anyone else from bringing anything else into the temple, and flipped over the moneychangers’[2] tables. According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus cites scripture to explain his actions. He declares that the Temple…

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The Nonviolent God of the Exodus?

Thanks to Professor Branson Parler for sharing this post.

Reformedish

sacrificial lambI keep returning to the issue of the consistency between the Old Testament and the New Testament in it’s portrayal of God because the issue keeps getting brought up in popular (and academic) forums. Driven largely by a particular hermeneutic and reading of Jesus’ revelation of God, atonement, and nonviolence, a significant drive towards screening out large sections of the Old Testament portrayal of God is afoot. The basic argument is that while the Old Testament is fine for what it is–a limited, timebound telling of God’s dealings with his people according to their lights–Jesus came along and corrected that view. So, we need to go back and look at the Old Testament in light of Jesus and judge it according to his standard of non-violent love. By that standard, much of the Old Testament’s depiction of God’s activity falls short and we ought to gently set it aside as…

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Pro-Life?

While there are “secular” and pagan arguments against abortion, by and large most who view abortion as an evil do so on the basis of their faith in God. We believe in the sanctity of human life because of the truth that, “In the Image of God, they were created, male and female.” (Gen 1:28) As a Christian, I do believe that the breathe of God breathed into the Image of God provides the theological basis for the voice of God declaring, “thou shalt not kill!”

However, I believe the implications of the Sanctity of Human Life reach far further than ending abortion (and not murdering, of course).

As more theologians are recognizing, “image of God” had very little to do with human capacities (intellectual, linguistic, emotional, relational) and had much more to do with their role as God’s vice regents and priests (in Genesis’ ancient context). Just as in modern Thailand, images of the king serve as constant reminders of the king’s “benevolent” rule, so too, the image of God is a pervasive reminder of God’s own kind and just administration of creation. Humans are God’s representatives on earth, and if in proper relation with their Creator, will be enthusiastic ambassadors of His love and grace.

Just as any attempt to deface a royal effigy is rightly considered an affront to the king, so too any attack on a human being is indeed an rejection of the loving rule of God. Our Lord taught us that if anyone calls a brother or sister a fool, he is guilty. And 1 John 3:15 equates hate and murder. Consider this, everyone, everyone, bears the Image of God and is a reminder of Gods authority. Everyone has been put on this earth as a gift of unrepeatable abilities and perspectives that God deemed necessary to the flourishing of humanity. To ever think the thought, “God I wish that person was not here,” is to curse the face of God. (Now, it is an entirely different thought to think, “God, I wish my interaction with that person could have been a time of restoration and redemption instead of pain, frustration, and irritation”).

If God has given each human life with an unrepeatable vocation and purpose, that should have broad ramifications for every conceivable human interaction.

Foreign policy No person is collateral damage. Even if a war can be deemed justifiable, to be just, preservation of life should be the highest aim. Drone attacks and bombings (Hiroshima, Nagasaki) which do not regard human life are a direct attack on God (good luck with that). Indefinitely detaining “terrorists” in secret prisons without trial refuses to acknowledge the sacred purpose each of those mean and women could serve (and delegitimates any government’s authority to administer justice).

Immigration: While I believe immigration laws should be respected and enforced, if the status of a person as Image of God does not drive the conversation, those laws will not be Good.

Labor: A person’s worth must never be measured according to their economic contribution. When people are helplessly stuck (legally or not) in jobs that will never allow them to flourish or rest, they have been deemed subhuman.

Police Brutality: God bless the police! They have taken great personal risk in order to serve and protect our communities. But when tragedy strikes, I am terribly afraid that there are those who believe their “right” to protect themselves supersedes their oath to protect their neighbor. I ask you, who would have died if Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Rodney King, Akai Gurley, Kajieme Powell, Rumain Brisbon, or Bernard Bailey had been allowed another ten seconds to clarify the situation? Each of these men bore the image of God and therefore were unrepeatable gifts of God to this world. (With the possible debated exception of Michael Brown who was in a violent confrontation with the man who killed him moments before he attempted to flee the area) No one would have died if these men were given ten more seconds. These are damnable tragedies.

Mental Health: As has been well documented, our society prefers to abort the disabled before they see the light of day. Such an approach rejects the gift of these people out of hand. But even for those who enjoy the gift of life, our communities still prefer to segregated those differently gifted rather than embrace and nourish and integrate them into the broader community. We still distain and avoid those who make us uncomfortable, rejecting the grace that God offers through these embodiments of the divine presence.

Gerontology: As pressure grows to broaden the use of methods to simplify and expedite death, we must recognize the sinister reality that this is a push to make friends with the Enemy, Death. Death is viewed as the welcomed conclusion to our discomfort. But few moments have been as disturbingly sacred as when I had to assist my grandfather when he emptied his bowels. The final year we spent with him was often inconvenient, uncomfortable, and unpleasant (more for those living with him than me on my visits), but he deserved to be treated with dignity and received as a gift from God until his utterly unnatural final breath.

To be pro-life, to claim to believe in the sanctity of human life, is to affirm the sacredness of every human life. And any diminution of a human’s worth is a curse against God. God will punish the evil men who buy votes with promises to regulate abortion, but refuse to regard the sanctity of human life on any other level with their fiscal, foreign, or health policy.

Why do I keep posting stories of tragedies involving police?

The short answers is, they keep happening. But if I wanted to write the short answer, this would be on Twitter, not my blog.

So why do I keep posting stories of tragedies involving police and why will I continue to do so?

I am not an activist. I have not done anything to promote the cause of justice. I have gone to no rallies or protests. I have not been arrested. I am not a victim. I have not faced injustices or been the victim of police bias. At best I am a “slacktivist”. At worst I am a hypocrite, calling for justice by doing nothing of note in its service. At least I am a human. A human made in the Image of God, and called by that God to be an ambassador of His Kingdom. The God who made humans in His Image and therefore commanded His people to not kill. Every homicide (justified or otherwise) is an offense to that God.

I post these stories of violence and death because Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Rodney King, Akai Gurley, Kajieme Powell, Rumain Brisbon, Bernard Bailey, et. al all bore the image of God and therefore were unrepeatable gifts of God to this world. And when we lost them, we forever lost an opportunity to encounter the face of God.

I post these stories because a segment of our population continues to be disproportionately (though not exclusively) affected by overzealous police officers, petty laws that “justify” higher rates of arrest (at the discretion of the officers) and longer prison-sentences (inevitably increasing rates of fatherlessness).

I post them because I continue to hear white people, often wearing a badge, talk about how the living officer who fired the shot, or executed the hold, or shot the tazer, or drove the car…was acting “according to their training” and “within the bounds of the law.” Now, obviously (or it should be obvious), police or anyone can only be held accountable for the actual laws on the books. And it would be a dark day in America if a court ever concluded, “while the defendant did not commit any crime, he was wrong for what he did, and is therefore sentence to…” But the fact that so many of these terrible cases take place within the bounds of the law makes clear that we must view the problem as a systemic issue. Certainly each confrontaiton deserves case-by-case analysis, and there are almost certainly situations where the officer had no other choices. But the barrage of these stories and the accumulating echoes of headlines suggests the terrible reality that the laws and policies and best practices that have lead to the loss of these lives are damnably flawed. And just as God-fearing Christians have fought for the end of slavery, segregation, abortion, the lottery, predatory lending, and concentration camps, we (well the white among us) are long over due to demand that police live by a higher (not lower) standard of restraint and conflict resolution.

I post these stories because I continue to read people writing, “If he didn’t sell those cigarettes, if he hadn’t jaywalked, if he hadn’t reached for the wounds near his waistband” As if any of those are capital offenses.

I post these stories because of the many posts I have read describing how to properly interact with a police officer for your own safety. Really?! When we encounter a person with a badge that says “serve and protect” we have a list of guidelines for not getting shot??? How is being rude, afraid, mouthy, silent, resistant any basis for the use of lethal force? There are two legal bases for lethal force. (A) The police officer is defending his own life or the life of another person, (B) the suspect is fleeing after committing a violent felony. The only step not not getting killed by a police officer should be, “don’t try to kill a police officer.” There might be lists of ways to deal safely with a drunk, or a man waving a gun around, or an armed robber, or a psychopath. No one should be safer to deal with than police officers. I should be more afraid of my 80-year-old grandmother than an enforcer of the law.

I post these stories because of the thousands of police officers who get up everyday to go serve and protect their communities and have to deal with communities who have been broken and jaded by violent criminals with a badge.

I post these stories because I am sick of them. I hate them. I never want to read another one. And I want you to be sick of them. I want you to hate them. I want you to be angry. I want us all to repent and believe the Good News that Jesus of Nazareth who was condemned by a corrupt court and crucified as a criminal is the Prince of Peace.

And I post these stories because I want my kids and neighbors and friends to live in a world where justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

“Truly He taught us to love one another. His law is love, and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His Name, all oppression shall cease.”

The Crucified God: Reflections from Moltmann on Good Friday

“At the core of Christianity we find the history of the man from Nazareth. Through forgiveness of sins, liberating miracles, and signs of hope he proclaimed that the kingdom of God had come near to the poor, the sinner, the outcast, and the victims of discrimination. he entered into the way of suffering and was killed as a blasphemer, as a threat to national security, and, on the cross, as one abandoned by God… This is the one in whom the future of God and of man’s freedom became flesh. At the core of Christianity we find, at the same time, the history of the God who humiliated himself, who became man, who took upon himself the suffering of inhumanity, and who died in the Godforsakenness of the cross.”

“The Godforsaken Son of God takes the eternal death of the forsaken and the damned upon himself in order to become God of the forsaken and brother of the damned. Every person damned and forsaken by God can, in the crucified one, experience community with God.”

“Where people suffer because they love, God suffers in them and they suffer in God.  Where this God suffers the death of Jesus and thereby demonstrates the power of his love, there people also find the power to remain in love despite pain and death, becoming neither bitter nor superficial. They gain the power of affliction and can hold fast to the end.”

Jurgen Moltmann, “The Crucified God and the Apathetic Man,” The Experiment Hope.