I’m feeling ill-equipped to speak about the things weighing on my heart. Do you know this fallen world we live in is a world that tolerates violence and pain? It’s a world where the police–who should be protecting and defending our communities–become a force that divides them, that devalues life. It’s a world where people can be more concerned about private property destroyed–which is indeed a bad thing–than about life lost. It’s a world where people can look at the death of a person by the hand of a police officer and come out choosing sides: the police or the victim.
And, yes, I’m writing about the events that have occurred in Ferguson, MO, over the past few days. But the sad thing is, I could be writing about so many other cases of lost life at the hands of our police officers in other towns and cities around the country.
And in Ferguson we are seeing–rightly, I think–outrage over the loss of life. Over the way the death was handled. Over the missing information and missing details that still haven’t come to light. I’m not saying that the looting of stores was an acceptable response to this death. And I’m not saying the rioting and burning in the community was an acceptable response to this death. Nor do either of those events serve to honor Michael Brown, who was killed Saturday. But it seems right that the community would gather to honor the deceased and to protest the organization responsible for his death.
I know plenty of people saw the death of Micahel Brown and thought to themselves, he probably deserved it. And here I have to disagree. Two pieces of information have been published that–if true–make the “he deserved it” line of reasoning invalid: 1. Michael Brown was unarmed at the time of the shooting and 2. Michael Brown was backing away from the police officer with his hands in the air. Frankly, even if the second piece turns out to be false, it’s difficult to understand how an officer with a gun–and presumably other means of self-defense, such as a club or a taser–could justify fatally shooting an unarmed person.
And the cop-kills-kid story differs even from the Trayvon Martin tragedy in one crucial way: training. Police officers are (or should be) trained in how to appropriately manage bad situations. Police officers are trained in how to use the weapons with which they have been entrusted. And police officers are trained in the law. As tragic as the death of Trayvon Martin was, his killing “in self-defense” was the act of an untrained neighborhood watch patrolman, not a police officer who should have known better. This is not to justify the killing of Trayvon Martin, but to say that the police should be held to an even stricter standard.
Heinous crimes have been committed in this country, but even the mass shooters and serial killers are entitled–by no less than the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution–to have their day in court. Whatever Michael Brown may or may not have done, it’s hard to justify his execution without trial. Such acts are the stuff of vigilantes, and have no place in the American legal system, and no place among the police officers who are expected to protect and defend their communities.
My prayers go out to this family, and to the community of people who lost a friend and loved one on Saturday. And I pray that we will see changes in how the police interact with people in this country; that we, as Americans, will not tolerate unnecessary use of force from one person to another, especially from people in authority. A badge and a gun doesn’t free a man to enact justice as he sees fit; instead, it should hold him to a higher standard of decency.