When a police officer fires his gun, it is for one purpose to Kill. Police officers are trained to fire two bullets into a person’s chest and then one in the head. It does not matter if the victim is armed or not. We generally give the police the right to respond the way they see fit. Yet the police have a history of over-stepping their authority with brutality, extortion, and murder. So laws set standards which limit what a police officer can do. Rarely though are police publicly held accountable for their actions.
In his book, The Land, the Biblical Scholar Walter Brueggemann wrote that at the time of Jesus there was a clash of cultures in Israel. Judaism with its concern for the poor verses Hellenism where an educated elite manipulated the social, religious, and economic systems for their own benefit.
Christians have struggled with this for two thousand years. Christian theology and philosophy have incorporated both Judaic and Hellenistic Philosophies into its understanding of the world. While we hold the ideals of taking care of the poor, we also know that getting a good education is key to financial, religious, and social benefits. We also know two basic facts: the powerful generally make the rules and we limit a portion of our surplus taking care of the poor.
The killings of an unarmed young black men has shown how this plays out in a clash of cultures. Educated, white, wealthy tend to believe that the killings were justified or at least an honest mistake. Uneducated, poor, black feel that it is open season on Black men and the system is against them
Most Americans do not exactly fit these categories. Still it is hard to stand in the shoes of both the officer and victim. In my experience, most police officers and poor Black men will not be candid with the larger public about how they honestly feel. They usually say what is self-serving even when it is a lot of crap. Like it or not both groups are hard to work with.
In reality, inner-city police officers know poor Black males better than the rest of society. With over 500 murders a year in Chicago, officers know the streets are dangerous and why they are dangerous. They do not need to be told about society’s ills.
Almost all young men in their teens and early twenties do dumb things. But for Poor young Black men, the pressures of poverty and the rules of street make life especially dangerous. My experience tells me that most of the young men embrace the rules of the street. At least in Latino and immigrant neighborhoods the infrastructures of businesses, jobs, and opportunities are growing. Poor Black neighborhoods are dominated by blight.
Both sides claim that they are the real victims. The rest of us take sides or get tired of listening. So nothing changes. As long as poor Black men lack opportunities, they will hang out, drop out of school, do illegal activities for income, prey upon the weak, settle their own disputes, go to prison and die early. The police will clean up the messes, not always well, and be in conflict with the neighborhoods.
If the lives of poor, uneducated, unchurched Black men are as important as everyone else’s lives in our country, what are we going to do about it? For those of us who claim a Christian identity what does our faith say? Do young, uneducated, poor, Black, unchurched men get what they deserve for their sins? Or are we called to find a better way? Historically Christians, churches, and America have neglected poor, uneducated, unchurched Black men. I do not expect much to change.