To be black in America historically has meant that at any moment your people can and will be held responsible for the actions of a few.
The Tuskegee Airmen knew that if they failed as military pilots that the door would never be opened again to other black folks with the same aspirations.
Jackie Robinson knew that if he cracked under the intense and racist pressure of being the first black MLB player he’d make it unlikely for future black baseball players to be given the chance.
Slaves on plantations knew that if one person ran away from the plantation for freedom that it would be “hell” to pay for those left behind.
1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma a black man who shined shoes on elevators ALLEGEDLY assaulted a white woman. The next morning a newspaper falsely reported that he raped her. The result was a riot and massacre that rivals the September 11th terrorist attacks. White mobs in the surrounding area killed an estimated 3,000 African Americans, destroyed 600 successful black businesses. Among them were 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, two movie theaters, a hospital, a bank, a post office, libraries, schools, law offices, a half dozen private airplanes and even a bus system. In two days one of the most affluent black neighborhoods of all-time was in smoke and ashes as a result of ONE mans alleged actions. (watch a full documentary on this largely unknown event here)
This historical phenomenon of blackness creates in some of us what is called “stereotype threat anxiety“. We are aware that our actions in any moment can be interpreted as criminal, ignorant, lazy, irresponsible, and representing our whole group. Black and other minority groups often take deep sighs of relief when a mass-murderer is not a member of their ethnic group.
This brings me to the awful and senseless murders of the two NYPD officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.
My heart is extremely heavy over this ATROCIOUS act of violence and tragic loss of life. Based on the reports they were targeted because of the color of their uniform by a man who had made statements via social media that he would avenge the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner by putting “pigs in a blanket”. WICKED!!
My condolences and prayers go up for all the family & friends affected by this. As someone who has been targeted over and over again by police because of the color of my skin I empathize (to the best of my ability) with police officers and their families all over this country. My empathy skills in this moment are further strengthened by the fact that my family was struck with a similar tragedy when a cousin who was a police officer was randomly shot and killed by a man while sitting in his patrol car in ’07.
It was a very SHOCKING moment for my family. I remember the very painful questions that ran through my mind after the tragedy. Why did this happen? Could it have been avoided? Was this man, who was white, racially motivated in his violence? My family will never really know. The man who murdered my cousin was killed shortly afterwards in a shootout with police.
The NYPD police officer killings are a horrible tragedy that black folks en masse (including Eric Garner’s family) have publicly condemned and mourned. However, across the nation there are those that are blaming the actions of one MENTALLY ILL man (who a month earlier attempted to hang himself, and the morning of the incident shot and severely wounded his ex-girlfriend) on people who have PEACEFULLY protested what they believe to be senseless killings of black folks by police. It’s being said that that blood is on the hands of those who “who incited violence on the streets under the guise of protest” and “tried to tear down what NYPD officers did every day.” These are very strong words that are hard to swallow. For one, they suggest that the motive of protestors was not to fight for a more just society, but to stir up violence. These words ignore the fact that many protesters are Christians and MOST are practitioners of a non-violent tradition of civil disobedience that has had the moral fortitude to only bear the arms of love and truth in the face of racial terrorism.
Much of this blame game is fueled by ungodly political agendas. Conservative right media has an invested interest in denying and discounting claims of systemic, structural, and interpersonal racism in America. Like a moth to a flame they are attracted to any and every news story that has the potential to derail the growing conversations around racial injustice in our nation. In a twist of irony, the two cops who were murdered are a part of minority groups that are frequently victims of injustice. Its hard to imagine “Faux News” being on Officer Ramos’s (a Christian man who attended a multi ethnic church) son’s side had he been one of the thousands that are racially profiled through the ineffective and dehumanizing policing tactic called “stop and frisk” in the very same precinct. As this piece makes crystal clear, black and brown police officers are just as susceptible to the same treatment when their blue uniform is off.
My questions for those who blame us for this tragedy are simple. What should we have done? Would it have been right to be silent in the face of the killings of God’s image bearers. Were we to trust the legal process of a nation that for 85% of its history has “legally” discriminated and marginalized black folks? Would it have been right to discredit the cause of Fredrick Douglas and other non-violent abolitionists in the 1800s because Nat Turner responded to the same oppression with violence? If the “Black Lives Matter” movement is responsible for the NYPD officers death, is the Tea Party responsible for the execution style killings of 2 Las Vegas police done by a couple who draped themselves in the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag that has symbolized its movement. Are we willing to employ the same logic? Probably not. The overwhelming majority of protests and protesters have not been violent and have not contained “anti-cop” rhetoric. To make that claim is dishonest. You can be anti-police brutality and injustice while valuing, affirming, and loving police. Just as one can be anti-bad teachING while valuing, supporting, & affirming teachERS. Which is precisely why we refuse to dehumanize ANYONE. Even those who are a part of systems that dehumanize. This is the Way of Jesus & the legacy of Christian lead Civil Rights Movement. This is the responsibility of prophetic witnesses: to hate injustice but love people.
Let us not be fooled by the 400 year long tactic of scapegoating black folks for problems that find their social roots in anti-black racism. We must reject any unfounded transfer of guilt onto the bodies of black people and continue clinging to the Cross of the Lamb who “became sin” so that the world might be reconciled to God. All of Creation groans and eagerly awaits for the revealing of a New Humanity that is uncontaminated by the hazardous germ of racism. One day, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom” and the glory of this New Humanity. In other words, our universe is on a course towards liberation and justice in Christ and the Church is called to labor to this end!
That said, “Black Lives STILL Matter” and “we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes!”