I watched this video and got a little knot in my stomach. Oh, no, not again. A black man with his hands in the air is shot to death by Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby. The video has become another Rohrshach test for our racial divide.
It is pretty clear that when we see a video like this we tend to see what we want to see while thinking we see exactly what is there. I’ve watched the video, and the helicopter video, and I’ve read the testimony of the officer Shelby. I don’t know if she’s telling the truth or trying to save her bacon. Was Terence Crutcher on PCP? Did he try to reach into the car for something? Did he give a credible threat to the officer that justified the shooting? Or did the officer overreact because he was a large black man and gun him down for no good reason? I don’t really know.
NOTE: As I was writing this, I saw a breaking news report that officer Shelby is being charged with manslaughter.
But a lot of other people do. I made an offhanded comment on Facebook about how the Brad and Angelina breakup seemed to be bigger news than another shooting of an unarmed black man by a cop in Tulsa. I wasn’t even really trying to opine on racial issues, but I was ridiculing the importance we give to Brangelina, the Kardashians, and other celebrities. But my comment soon filled up with comments about the Crutcher shooting. Here’s my observation about what happens when unfortunate situations like this occur.
- There are some folks, mostly white, who assume that the police always have justification and wouldn’t shoot someone without it. If Officer Shelby shot Crutcher, he must have done something to provoke it. They always back up the cops and blame the black man or woman who has been shot. If that person had only done what they should have, there would not have been a problem. The officer did the right thing…always.
- There are other folks, many of them from the minority community, who leap to the conclusion that when an officer shoots a black man, it is a racial hit. No matter what the man or woman is doing at the time of the shooting, if a cop shoots, it’s police brutality and evidence of racial oppression in America.
We’ve pretty much stopped trying to look at the facts. We marshal the facts to fit our prejudices – whether they are pro-police or whether they lead us to believe in racial oppression and injustice. Facts don’t matter – it’s the narrative. I choose whatever facts I want to hear to fit my narrative and ignore whatever doesn’t.
This has to stop. Look, people. It does no good to pretend there isn’t a racial problem in America. Black people get shot in situations that make no sense. White folks – especially those of us who are white Christians, we need to stop acting like there’s no problem as if it’s always justified. Sure, there’s quite a bit of doubt about whether Michael Brown really had his hands in the air when he was shot (eyewitness testimony varies greatly). The simple narrative that he was shot while surrendering? It’s not that easy. But there are too many examples of questionable shootings by police of black men to shrug it all off.
On April 7, 2015, Walter Scott was murdered in cold blood by a police officer, Michael Slager, in South Carolina. He attempted to plant evidence against Scott after the shooting (that he was coming after him with a taser) and if a man had not been there to record the murder, he’d have probably gotten away with it.
(Warning: This is graphic and contains language we don’t use at Voices!)
I would hope that even the most racially-defensive among us would agree that Slager is a murderer and should suffer the full weight of justice against him. Most of the shootings are not this clear, but watch the plethora of videos and you eventually come to the conclusion that there is a problem in America’s justice system. There are inequities. At the very least, blacks and other minorities feel as if they are not receiving the same level of justice – and I as a middle-class white American cannot argue against that feeling. I see the evidence.
Now, I’m going to take my corpulent mass onto treacherously thin ice. My dear minority brothers and sisters, I would make a suggestion to you as well. Facts are our friends. I’m telling my white friends (and even those white people who log on to express their disdain and hatred for me – whenever I write about this it happens a LOT) to try harder to look at the facts without the lens of their white cultural bias. There are times when, from my seat in Whiteville, it seems like the Black community picks some strange heroes. I always wondered why Walter Scott wasn’t more the rallying cry than Michael Brown – who was a criminal who did some things that at the very least contributed to his tragic demise. What I’m trying to say is that as whites need to open their minds to the facts about racial injustice, the minority community needs, in my humble opinion, to accept the fact that sometimes the facts support the actions of law enforcement.
We need to let the facts speak before we jump to conclusions. And for the love of God, we all need to stop making generalizations. Generalizations are always wrong (see what I did there?).
While I’m venting on this topic, can I throw in a brief rant about the press?
For curiosity’s sake, I checked the major news sites to see what they were saying about this.
CNN actually had a fascinating and thoughtful article (it surprised me). “Why Charlotte Exploded and Tulsa Prayed.” You can read the article, but the rioting after a shooting in Charlotte that broke out during a vigil is contrasted with the peace that has been maintained in Tulsa. Credit is given to the churches of Tulsa, who brought people together to listen to their grievances and give them a chance to pray, grieve, and support one another.
Fox never fails to disappoint. They stirred the pot and of course, pointed the finger at the black community. Their headline read, “Whites are Devils,” stoking racial fears and prejudices. A leopard can’t change its spots. Fox is Fox. Sensationalistic reporting that stirs up anger and fans fears among white people. Their #2 article on the topic is about how the rioting has damaged…the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Fear-mongering about Muslims and minorities is a Fox News specialty.
MSNBC actually has little to say about the rioting, focusing their article on a police news conference in which the chief of police denies that Keith Scott, the man police shot thus provoking the rioting, was not pointing his gun at the police as had previously been reported. Do you see how bias controls reporting? Liberal MSNBC focuses on police brutality and glosses over the rioting, while alt-right Fox ignores anything about police misconduct focuses on the horrors of the white-hating rioters.
Please understand, folks, there’s no such thing as NEWS anymore. You read opinion pieces. Even so-called news is slanted. Unfortunately, right-wing sites are some of the most slanted sites of all, and often the most prone to playing fast and loose with the truth – battlefield ethics. You can almost never assume that the facts you are presented in the press are unbiased, unvarnished facts.
So, we live in a racially-charged world which seems to have no solution. Our news outlets not only fan the flames but seem to send us to our partisan corners. Things get worse and worse. Is there anything we can do?
What Can We Do?
1. Let the Church be the Church.
The church is the solution to these problems. If the dog and pony show known as election 2016 has shown us anything, it is that there is no hope for real change in the political realm. Here’s the fact.
We’ve been talking about civil rights and racial reconciliation for 75 years and there is still rioting in the streets.
That’s because liberalism, humanism, and all the modern movements cannot do what Jesus came to earth to do by his death and resurrection. When we say that racial reconciliation is a gospel issue, what we (well, what I) mean is that Jesus died and rose again not only to save individuals but to gather a people from every tribe and language on earth. Jesus died to unite White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, Native peoples and every other type of human being on earth. Racial efforts are failing because it is the GOSPEL THAT UNITES RACES.
That is why racism in the church is so heinous. It is a denial of the very purpose of Christ to unite us into one body. Racism is no small thing – it is a denial of Christ and the gospel. Racism spits on Christ as he hangs on the Cross. Racial discrimination mocks Christ as he hangs on the Cross. Church segregation gloats over Christ as he suffers and dies. It is an insult to the purpose of Christ in his birth, his life, his death, and resurrection. The racial unity of the church is not just some kind of secondary outcome or result of salvation, but it is at the heart of all Christ did.
You cannot be a good Christian with racist leanings. You cannot be a good segregationist church. Denying Christ’s purpose in racial reconciliation is as heretical as denying inerrancy or the Trinity or the blood atonement of Christ.
We’ve got to go beyond simply repenting of past racism, we must become what the churches of Tulsa were – the resources for reconciliation. Let the church be the church.
2. Empathy for the others.
At the root of a lot of our problems is that we demand that “they” see the world through “our” eyes. We are more than willing to bring Blacks into our churches and into our denomination as long as they check their culture at the door and join in with ours. See things our way. Do things our way. See the world our way. Vote our way.
At the root of real racial reconciliation is the willingness to try to see the world through “their” eyes.
I get offended every time I see someone kneel at the anthem or hold their fist up in a black power salute. And the hypocrisy of multimillionaires claiming oppression has not escaped me. But my duty as a Christians is to try to see the world through minority eyes and ask why people feel this way. I must not tell them they must see the world as I do, but try to understand their world. I don’t have to agree with Colin Kaepernick to understand that the minority community has some valid reasons to feel put-upon in America.
3. Love, forgive, build relationships.
I was reading that great magazine, “Duh!” which had an article which said, “It’s good to build relationships with people.” Insightful, right? Go to the nearest evangelical black church and take the pastor to lunch. Build a relationship. Pray together. Find out what the grievances and hurts are in your community. Build up some reconciliation antibodies in the community bloodstream, so that when a tragedy occurs, you can follow the Tulsa pattern (let’s pray that holds!) and go the Charlotte route.
Every relationship involves forgiveness and forbearance. Stops and starts. Mistakes and new beginnings. Don’t let a setback stop the progress.
4. Realize that racial reconciliation isn’t our project.
You are not alone in this effort. Not even close. You are undertaking something close to the heart of God. It is God’s idea, not yours, to unite the races. Racism is a work of Satan. Segregation is from the Devil – a lie from hell that has deceived the church for far too long. The Spirit of God is moving in the church to call us to unite. He is convicting people to lay down every remnant of racism, to break down the walls and to unite as ONE BODY is Christ.
Let us pray that we will be active servants of God as he causes works to bring about the day when this Body is worshiping together in heaven:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
And of course, this:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
May we begin to see the beginnings of that glorious day in our churches today.