Thursday, July 7, 2016


Our Lady of Ferguson and all victims of gun violence commissioned by the Rev. Dr. Mark Bozutti-Jones of Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church

It has happened. Again. And again.

In two days, in two cities, two very different men with a single common denominator that they were black. Both were shot down by police officers.

One man in Baton Rouge...his name is Alton Sterling...was called in by someone for selling CDs outside a convenience store and having a gun. Two officers responded, and with Sterling pinned to the ground, they shot him in the chest and the back. That was horrifying.

Then, not even a full 24-hours later, in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, another man...his name is Philando Castile...was pulled over for a busted tail light on his car. And with his girlfriend and four-year-old child in the car, an officer shot him and he bled out while his girlfriend recorded the whole incident for Facebook to see. That was sickening.

The media was quick to tell us how Sterling had had his share of run-ins with law enforcement before. Castile, on the other hand, had no rap sheet. He taught in the St. Paul School District. He was a loved teacher and colleague. He was also a black man with a gun, and he told the officer that he had his concealed weapon on his person. He was attempting to get out his wallet from his back pocket when the officer unloaded four bullets into him.

They're dead. The cops are on paid administrative leave. And I have a terrible feeling that, like with the many cases before this, nothing will happen to the officers involved because there will be some justification for why they felt they needed to use deadly force when they weren't being threatened with imminent harm.

Of course, some want to deflect these horrific crimes by reminding us all that not every person serving on a police force is a bad person. Yes, that is true. But I'm not really in the mood to hear about that right now. And even this police officer, Nakia Jones,says it's time for cops to call out and cull the bad apples in their bunch.

Please note: I'm saying the police need to be willing to police themselves. This is not a call to arms to take out cops with more deaths by guns (and please don't even get me started on America's gun addiction!). Even as I have been typing this blog, three four five officers are dead in Dallas at a march against this police brutality. More violence is not surprising given the track record of little to no accountability for the police who have killed black men. But shooting cops only escalates the hate. And the fear. And the mistrust. Enough!

Seriously: is it any wonder that African-Americans in this country are angry and lack confidence in the police or any of our institutions which consistently fail them? Is it any wonder that they express hostility at the idea that they are even "Americans" when their loved ones are gunned down by those who take oaths to protect and serve their communities? Their outrage is understandable and one that I hear and join. I may not have black skin, but that doesn't mean that I can't see this injustice and know that it is a failure which white Americans must acknowledge as our own. If black lives don't matter, then nobody's life matters. And, again, killing the police doesn't make black lives matter, either.

The gospel lesson assigned in this morning's daily office was prophetic:

‘Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away,and they will betray one another and hate one another.And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.But anyone who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.--Matthew 24: 9-14 (emphasis added).

Will we see an end to this lawlessness in our land? Can we acknowledge the racism that infects so many parts of our culture that makes my white life more valuable than that of my black and brown brothers and sisters? I know this is a monumental undertaking, but we must not shy away from it. We have to hold police officers accountable when they abuse power. Same with our political leaders. Same with our courts, our hospitals, our schools, our religious institutions. That might be the beginning of finally living into God's dream instead of wallowing in the nightmare we create.

And so, with that, I leave on this variation of the children's bedtime prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep
In hopes I wake and not to weep
To learn of killings overnight
because a cop acted in fright.
God bless...
Alton and Philando, too
And all the victims, black and blue...
This my prayer I raise to you
Be our guide that leads to truth.

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