As I ambled into the house Tuesday night, I was met with: “Dad, it happened again.” Out of curiosity, I queried: “What happened again, son.” With a tinge of anger, shock and sadness, Marvin Jr. said: “Two white police officers shot another black man.” Inherent in his relaying this information was a cry for a village talk – wisdom in the midst of confusion and questions. What should and could I say to my 19-year-old black son?
We went to our trusted news source, Twitter, and found the video of two Baton Rouge police officers shooting Mr. Alton Sterling in cold blood. As of this writing, another white police officer in Minnesota shot and killed another black man, Mr. Philando Castile, and a sniper went on a shooting spree and killed 5 Dallas police officers and wounded 6 more. The video footage from all three shootings is troubling and disgusting.
“I Need The Village”
On Wednesday afternoon, a distraught single black mother called me, saying she needed the village. When she said she needed the village, she was referring to the old African Proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” It was her way of saying that she had an issue that she could not handle alone. Why did she need the village? After her 16-year-old son heard the news and watched the video of police officers gunning down Mr. Sterling, he sobbed uncontrollably.
He could not understand how these officers could take Alton Sterling from his family so quickly. He asked his mother: “Mom, how am I supposed to succeed in a world where the majority, especially white cops, view me as a disease?” Profound question. As a black single mother, she needed the village. So, I became his surrogate father for an hour and a half. What “village talk” could and should I give to my newly adopted 16-year-old son?
Though it troubles me that I need to have these kinds of conversations with my young men, I think it is necessary if I want them to survive in this America. So, I used the following talking points to have “village talks” with two amazing black young men.
- Broken people break people. Broken people see the world through distorted lenses. Distorted lenses make people look scary. Therefore, broken people cannot see and appreciate the beauty of the image of God in others. When we cannot understand and appreciate the image of God others, we will dishonor and disrespect them. When we dishonor and disrespect others, it is easier for us to treat them like animals and objects and even take their lives. I know the investigation is still going on, and I am not making a definitive statement on the case. But, the brokenness of prejudice seemed to drive white police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota to shoot two black men. If there is more to the story, then I stand to be corrected. When people cannot see our value, they will attempt to steal and snuff out our worth. So, don’t be surprised.
- Racism exists in our world. Race played a role in both shootings. In my humble opinion, if either one of these men was white, I just don’t think this would not have happened. Racism and prejudice in our country are like an onion; they have layers. When you think you have sufficiently solved one issue, another one is waiting for you. Though we have made progress in our country, we must not delude ourselves into thinking that racism, injustice, and inequality toward black people do not exist.
- Comply. Don’t give the police any other reason to shoot you. If the police stop you, put your wallet, insurance card, and your registration on the dashboard. Keep both hands on the steering wheel, and be as polite as possible. Don’t flinch an inch. If you have passengers in the car, instruct them, implore them, beg them to keep their mouths shut. Do what the police tell you to do. Don’t give them a reason, beyond the color of your skin, to shoot you.
- All white cops are not racists. Unfortunately, these shootings perpetuate a false view that all white police officers are racists and care nothing about you. Now, I know a number of good white police officers who are doing their jobs well. I am not talking about those officers. I am referring to the ones who do not see your worth and value. Just like some crooked pastors give a bad name to all the good pastors, there are corrupt and racist cops who give a bad name to all the good police officers. Though it’s hard, don’t judge every white police officer by the actions of a few.
- These incidents are not new. Sometimes, we react as if these kinds of things just starting happening. These events have happened for a very long time in our country. One of the differences is we can record it, replay it and report it, frame by frame. But, the number of undocumented unjust killings of black people in our country is unquantifiable. Our parents, grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents endured these kinds of injustices constantly. Let’s honor their sacrifice and deaths through continuing to fight for justice in our world.
- This world is not heaven. Sometimes, think this world is heaven. We get comfortable and incidents like these shock us into the reality that we live in a messed up world. These shootings remind us that sin is indeed sinful. The injustices that we have witnessed in the last several days are sobering reminders that this world is not heaven. One day Jesus will return and right every wrong. Until such time, we must keep preaching the good news and fighting for justice.
- You are God’s countermove to racism and inequality in the world. God wants to stop all kinds of injustices in the world through his people. Therefore, you have to stand up for right whenever and wherever you see wrong. You have to be the ones to pierce the darkness with light.
- Hatred only breeds more hatred. I know you are angry and sad and fearful. But, but don’t allow your anger and fear to cause you to do something irrational and unwise. We will never stop prejudice with more injustice. Violence and criminal actions against the police and others are not the answer. Snipers ambushing and assassinating police officers in Dallas is horrific and reprehensible. We quell injustice and racism with the gospel of Jesus and the righteous justice of God.
- Never become comfortable with injustice. No matter how successful you become, never get used to injustice. The moment you become comfortable with injustices like the ones we’ve witnessed in the last several days, your silence and complacency make you complicit in the crime. Also, when you become complacent, you lose the desire to fight for a better and more just world. You owe it to all those who have fought to secure the freedoms you enjoy. So, keep weeping and lamenting over this kind of stuff. Why? Our Heavenly Father weeps over this sort of thing in our world. Join the Father in mourning over the brokenness in our world and striving to advance his reign and rule in our world.
- Your skin makes you more susceptible to injustice. Being pre-judged based on your skin color is our reality. Your skin is a target for prejudice. I have personally experienced it, even when dressed to the nines. Prejudice is so ingrained in our society that, in many ways, it will color (no pun intended) the way others react and interact with you. So, don’t give people a reason to judge you according to false perceptions and stereotypes. It doesn’t matter how responsible and respectful you are. This could happen to you. You are young black men. These seem to be the ingredients for being a target today. I know, not all police are prejudice and ready to shoot a black man. But, it only takes one or two, who have steeled themselves to the image of God in you, to steal your life from you. Some days, when you leave the house, I fear if the police stop you, you might not come back to us. I tell you this so you won’t be surprised if and when injustice happens to you.
- If you have a license to carry a gun, the 2nd Amendment might not protect you and the NRA will probably not support you. Philando Castile had a license to carry a firearm. When the police stopped him, he announced that he had a firearm and had a license to carry. This did not prevent Mr. Castile from getting shot. Moreover, the NRA should have been the first organization to hold a presser and demand justice, but to this day they have remained silent (On July 8, they did make a statement that the events in Minnesota are troubling and they are waiting for the investigation to conclude). It appears, and I could be wrong, that they are more interested in protecting white gun owners and not all gun owners. So, though you have a right to carry a firearm, leave it at home. Don’t run the risk. If the police stop you, you could lose your life faster.
- Many white people are silent because they don’t know what to say or don’t want to say the wrong thing. I had a brief but powerful Facebook conversation the other morning with one of my white friends. She genuinely felt pain and profound sadness, but she hadn’t said anything because she was afraid she would say the wrong thing. I commended her for her transparency, humility, and desire to find ways to engage the issue. So, don’t get upset if some white people don’t know exactly how you feel because they are not black. But, you should expect them to do exactly what my friend did – ask questions, stand and mourn with you and the black community. I am not trying to throw shade at my white brothers and sisters. The truth is, until white people walk a mile in your shoes and attempt to understand you as a young black man, they will never understand your fear and anxiety when police officers stop you.
- You have divine worth and value. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are not an animal. You are not a disease. You are not 3/5 of a human being. God created you in his image. This means you are a partner with God and are deserving of respect. God says you are his sons, his treasure, his new creation. God says you have a purpose. God says that he has a plan for your life. Your black life matters. Therefore, walk in the confidence of what God says about you and not what others think about you.
- What people mean for evil, God can redeem it and turn it to good. God is in control over the evil of racism and prejudice in our world. I don’t know all the reasons he allows it, but I do know he can redeem it. God has a plan for your life that will succeed. Men and women may try to stop God’s plan because of the color of your skin. But, God is always doing something. He is always working. He is moving people and navigating circumstances to accomplish his purpose in and through your life. Sometimes, he will use injustice to accomplish his plan in the world.
Habakkuk carried a heavy burden:
How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted. Habakkuk 1:2-4
Injustice was not only Habakkuk’s burden; this should be our burden as well. God asks us to take these struggles just as seriously as he does. Taking these struggles seriously necessarily include correcting injustice, ending oppression and doing good to every person Jesus died to save.
How will you talk to your children about the recent police shootings?
What can we do to excise the cancer of injustice from our world?