I’ve been writing that black lives matter for a little while now. I have a “BLACK LIVES MATTER” yard sign in my front lawn. As a white pastor who was raised in the suburbs, I get a decent amount of push back on the things I write due to the culture and perspective of many in my personal network. Some of the push back has been helpful in stretching me and helping me find balance, while some of it has only reinforced why our nation is in the racial predicament it’s in and has been in for centuries.
One thing I’ve noticed is we as human beings have a tendency to be all or nothing. This isn’t necessarily unique to discussions of race, but is certainly obvious within them. It’s the classic swinging of the pendulum, often motivated by high levels of intense emotion, setting up blockades that prevent progress and unity.
In this week’s tragic shootings of Alton Sterling (Baton Rouge, LA) and Philando Castile (Falcon Heights, MN, outside Minneapolis), we must rally to mourn this tragic loss of life and continue to protest and highlight the systemic injustice they put a spotlight on. We must not also villainize all police officers in the process.
In the tragic terror incident of 5 white police officers being killed by a black sniper in Dallas, we must mourn this loss of life and lament the tragic response of this sniper, without associating the sniper’s actions with the action of the Black Lives Matter movement.
We must rally around the black community as blacks in America legitimately fear for their lives whenever they are pulled over by police. This should not be so!
I wish we were at the point where whites no longer assumed they knew what it was like to be black in America. Sadly, this is far from the case, especially from whites who have very little contact with the black American world.
A practical challenge to you if you’re white: ask 10 black friends if they feel they’ve ever been unjustly treated by police (and if so, how) and ask the same question to 10 white friends. Compare their responses. (And if you don’t have 10 black friends, you really shouldn’t be making assumptions about what it’s like to black in America…)
We must rally around our police officers who now legitimately fear for their lives, whether it be at a Black Lives Matter protest, or any given day on any given street. A sniper could be anywhere. This should not be so!
It’s extremely near-sighted to blame the Black Lives Matter movement for acts of violence against police, even those done in the name of the BLM banner.
It’s also near-sighted to act as if the Black Lives Matter movement has been perfect and above critique.
Things are much more complex and require much more patience than we typically want to give them.
Yes, the Dallas shooter was black. So we immediately assume he was a part of the Black Lives Matter movement and start pointing fingers at the violence BLM has inspired and discredit all it stands for. Only to find out from the black Dallas police chief that in interrogation, the shooter explained that he was upset with the BLM movement as part of his motivation for the attack.
Only to hear from the Black Lives Matter movement,
“Black activists have raised the call for an end to violence, not an escalation of it. Yesterday’s attack was the result of the actions of a lone gunman. To assign the actions of one person to an entire movement is dangerous and irresponsible. We continue our efforts to bring about a better world for all of us.”
To use the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile to rail against all police officers is dangerous and irresponsible. To use the Dallas shootings of white police officers to rail against Black Lives Matter or to invalidate the experiences of black people in America is dangerous and irresponsible.
We can look back in hindsight at Dr. Martin Luther King’s crusade for civil rights and see how firmly he stood for non-violence. We can see all along the way how some blacks decided to use violence as their answer to injustice, some even claiming to be a part of King’s movement. In the midst of this, we can see how Dr. King was different and that his movement was different. In the moment, don’t think for a second that white accusers weren’t constantly clumping the violent in with Dr. King in an effort to discredit and defame both King and his cause. We need to learn something from this hindsight and not let history repeat itself. Even if someone were to wear a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt and go on a shooting rampage (or say idiotic things like “Pigs in a Blanket, Fry ‘Em Up Like Bacon” while holding a “Black Lives Matter” banner) does not mean that they are speaking on behalf of the core values of the movement or its leadership. And most importantly, it does not mean that somehow blacks lives don’t matter. BLACK LIVES MATTER, whether you capitalize the “B”, the “L”, and the “M” or you are simply making the statement: black lives matter, they do! And for our entire American history, they haven’t, and we need to stand in solidarity to say they do, knowing that many police officers are standing with us.
All of the protests and awareness brought about by the Black Lives Matter movement have been extremely fruitful and should be celebrated. After the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland, state police training mandates in Ohio skyrocketed for a paltry 4 hours of annual professional training hours to 20, with a task force hoping to raise it up to 40, along with an additional 48 hours now mandated in their basic training. Body cameras are now in place on many police forces across our nation, including my hometown of Lansing, MI. These measures protect both the black community and police officers. We still have a long way to go, but none of this progress would have been made without the Black Lives Matter movement and protests, for which we as a society should be grateful.
We didn’t get to this era of carnage overnight. We got here from centuries of both overt racism and systemic racism (they are different), most of the latter which has been brushed under the rug and finally been revealed. Tensions between white police and the black community have been piling up for generations, with guilt falling on both sides. But one doesn’t need to be an angel to speak truth. Blacks have been oppressed by police. Police officers have been villainized unjustly. It’s good to protest injustice. It’s good to be the voice for the voiceless. We must continue to do this, while also opening our eyes to see the hurting. To see that way too many are hurting and it shouldn’t be this way. To continue to push for police training. Whether you want to capitalize the “B”, “L” and “M” or not, to stand up and declare that black lives matter! To admit that there are trigger-happy police officers who are shooting unarmed black men at a fearfully alarming rate, but that all police officers aren’t this way and that together we can actually do something to stop it!
For many whites, what makes the Black Lives Matter movement so disturbing is that we’ve never seen the problem. We simply say, “What are those people’s problem?” or “Why don’t they just settle down?” assuming that a black person’s life is just like a white person’s. It isn’t. And it’s incredibly unloving and invalidating to a person’s humanity to ignore their experience.
We can do this. We can stop the pendulum. We can speak truth. We can listen. We can act justly, love mercy and walk humbly, just as God commands his people to do (Micah 6:8). We can stand up for the oppressed without furthering violence. We can stop ignoring and stop assuming and stop denying.
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- Ep. 73: Interview with Ron Sandison on incorporating those with autism into the life of the Church - November 13, 2022