It’s happened again. Fortunately, this time no one was shot or killed, so we can breathe a collective sigh of relief. That is, relief in the sense that innocent black children were “only” traumatized, their lives were “only” threatened and not stolen, during the recent events. Welcome to our lives.
By now, you have probably seen snippets of the infamous video on the news or on YouTube, and if your Facebook newsfeed is anything like mine, you have probably seen dozens of articles about what happened. Some are outraged. Others are proud of the police response. While some of the facts are still unclear about the events at the pool in McKinney, Texas, we know this: Upon getting a “disturbance” call McKinney Police Officer Eric Casebolt barrel rolled (see: tripped and fell in his excitement) onto the scene, verbally abused teenagers, body slammed and virtually sexually assaulted a 14-year-old bikini clad girl as he pressed his body against her to “restrain” her, and pulled his loaded gun on a group of black youth.
Upon reading the above facts, some may be tempted to say something along the lines of, “Well, that sounds bad, but we don’t have all the facts.” And while that is true, in this case, it’s irrelevant because these are the facts that are important and these are the facts that should horrify us. An adult male, paid by taxes of the citizens of McKinney (black and white) to “serve and protect,” abused his power in verbally and physically assaulting children young enough to be his own.
While the video and the entire situation is hard to swallow, what’s worse has been the response of many people society still respects. I thought this video for sure would quell any skepticism that racialized police brutality is a problem in America! Unfortunately, it has not. The same people who defended George Zimmerman, Darren Wilson, Officer Pantaleo and the Cleveland police officer who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, are now defending Casebolt, too. And while, admittedly, I’m not surprised by this, it still hurts.
It hurts to see children who could be in my youth group treated more aggressively than biker gangs that murdered nine people and targeted the police. It hurts to see young black kids address a police officer with respect, even calling him “sir,” while he treats them like animals. It hurts to see a hundred-pound black girl slammed to the ground as though she had just been caught fleeing from a murder scene. It hurts to live in a country where people run to the aid of an officer with a gun, a badge and the full force of the law on his side but ignore the jolting and agonizing screams of a young girl calling for her mother. It hurts to be a minister of a Baptist church, knowing that so many others who share our denominational name probably don’t care about those kids and see them as criminals, too. It hurts to live in country where every month this year we have been forcefully and violently reminded that when it comes to the police, black lives do not matter!
In his “Letter From A Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King said the following:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.
Sadly, I think the words of Dr. King still ring true in our yet to be post-racial society. Black voices rail loudly against police brutality and the institutions that allow it, and will remain against them as long as it persists. However, our voices alone are not enough. We need white moderate voices too. For too long, many white moderate voices have remained silent about black oppression. For too long many white moderates remain sunbathing around the pool staring into their magazines instead of defending black children who get accosted by their neighbors. For too long many white moderates remain more interested in “preserving” their neighborhoods and thanking racist and brutal police for “protecting” their neighborhoods than they are interested in being good neighbors to black youth.
As a black minister in a white church, it is my charge to my church and to all predominantly white churches that the time has now come for them to join the ongoing efforts for black dignity. The time has come during this #blacklivesmatter movement for us to say to the black kids in McKinney, and the black kids in Ferguson, and the black kids in Baltimore, and the black kids on every corner of this country, that we will stand up for them because their lives matter. We must say to our peers who profile them, brutalize them, and kill them, that whatever they do against them they do to us. We must remind our police departments and our elected officials that separate but equal was outlawed 60 years ago, so they can no longer treat black youth differently from white youth.
We must also say to those who question the “decency” and “morality” of our children that the Christian mandate to love and defend the oppressed and vulnerable has nothing to do with how they dress, what they say, and who are they appear to be; it only has to do with whether or not we see them as our brothers and sisters, our sons or daughters.
Do you see these teens as your children? Do you see them as the adolescents they are, terrified for their lives?
In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John, there was a man who had been hanging out by a restrictive pool for 38 years waiting to be healed. Each time the man tried to enter the pool, the other sick people would beat him to the pool and undermine his efforts to get there. Jesus encountered this man and asked him “Do you want to be made well?”
While the question was directed at the man, I think it is a question for us and our society, too. I hear Jesus asking, “America, do you want to be made well?” I hear Jesus saying, “If so, stand up, take up your mats, and go and tend to my children.” I hear Jesus saying that his black and brown children remain waiting by our restrictive pools, our underfunded schools, our segregated neighborhoods, our indifferent churches and brutal police, hoping that someone will come by, notice their pain, and make America well (and work), for them. I hear Jesus telling us that if we want to be made well, we must stand up with our children as they fight for dignity, freedom and even the right to play. I hear Jesus saying, if we want to be made well, we must loudly say “No!” to restrictive pools and “No!” to police brutality, while boldly professing that black lives matter!