Because the Bible makes some very specific statements about obeying those in authority over us, most Christians are apt to view the police as peacekeepers, just doing their job. But of late, some troubling actions by police around the country have come to light.
Some, to be sure, such as the accusations against the officer in Ferguson, have proved false, whether the general population acknowledges that fact or not. The media has a way of editing video to show one side and to tell the story they want the public to believe.
When the facts come out, the public has already made up their mind. It’s nothing short of mob mentality depicted in old westerns and in books like To Kill A Mockingbird when mobs sought to lynch people they had determined, without an examination of facts, to be guilty of some crime.
With all the fallout from those slanted stories—riots, NYPD officers murdered—and the presence of video recording devices in the hands of many, if not most, bystanders, you’d think police around the country would be especially cautious. But no.
Recently we’ve seen video of two policemen breaking into a business and stealing stock, an officer shooting a man in the back, a group of officers kicking and punching a suspect, a CHP officer repeatedly punching a homeless woman, and a SWAT officer snatching a phone from the hand of an onlooker who was filming an incident, then smashing it on the ground.
Then there was the film of officers lifting Freddie Gray upright and dragging him to the police van. (Anyone who says he was “just fine” when he was put in the van, and critical when taken out, doesn’t know what “just fine” looks like.)
In short, it’s not possible to view these events and think the police are always the good guys. Of course, they never have been uniformly the good guys. There have been corrupt police in league with various criminal elements for decades. And there have been rogue cops who abused their power. The difference is surveillance cameras and bystander videos are exposing this element.
Unfortunately, many people point to the very public and tragic instances that have made the headlines, and they conclude that “the police” are rotten to the core or that they have racial bias. (Where, I wonder, was the rioting in support of the mentally ill when Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill and homeless man, died in 2011 after being beaten by police, who subsequently were found not guilty of charges brought against them?)
Slowly a perception is forming that all these people in a confrontation with the police are innocent, and the police, out of malice, are simply abusing and killing them at will.
Just last month, a group of people here in LA tried to paint several LAPD officers with that tainted brush when they shot and killed a robbery suspect who struggled with them. The incident was captured on video and clearly an officer repeatedly ordered the man to let go of the gun—a service weapon belonging to one of the policemen attempting to subdue him.
No matter how the “hate cops” crowd tried to stir up protest against the LAPD, the video showed the sequence of events. And no one said this, but one of the officers directly involved was African-American. As the police secured the scene, onlookers shouted at the officers, particularly at the African-American, calling him (along with a string of profane names) a sell out.
Clearly, there are people who want to destabilize our society. They may think it needs to be destabilized in order to change the status quo. Clearly some things do need to change.
We might start with our treatment of the mentally ill. Africa, the man killed on Skid Row in downtown LA, was schizophrenic as was Kelly Thomas, the victim in Anaheim three years ago. We should also address our attitude toward the homeless. As it happens, more and more cities are passing laws that prohibit people from feeding the homeless.
But there’s a more fundamental problem in play. We as a society no longer have a moral foundation. After World War II the moral ground was largely marshmallow—merely the appearance of firmness when in fact it was little more than the “this is how we’ve done it before” tradition. Now we don’t even have marshmallow.
Our relativistic philosophy is bound to play out on the the streets of our cities in the form of more rioting, more police abuse of power, more crime. Why shouldn’t it when “the Man” is making money hand over fist at the expense of the poor? If right and wrong is only what you perceive, then if I perceive unfairness, I have the right to take my pound of flesh, no matter who may suffer as a result.
Above all, the Church must not be silent. We cannot take sides in a war between police and minority communities. We must stand for justice—for police as well as for the people they serve. We cannot condone abuse and we cannot condone lawlessness. We ought not buckle to the laws that put obstacles in front of serving the least and the lost and the hopeless. We need to find a way to do missions here at home, to offer a way of escape from the tyranny of sin by pointing people to Jesus Christ.
And that includes police.