In this chaotic and painful time in our national history, I want to take a moment to remember a young man I used to know and make sure his story is not overlooked.
Jason went to high school with my son. They were close friends from their freshman year when they and another friend entered a lip-sync competition acting out “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.” In their junior year, the three boys helped create their school’s first robotics team and led it to a state championship. They surprised us all by winning the “Aspire” award which recognizes not only robotic design and programming but “gracious professionalism” and community outreach.
I’ll never forget attending the robotics world championship that year, where my son and his friends represented their school and their state. The championship was held at a professional football stadium, and it was filled with junior high and high school students from around the world who were committed to their education and to building a better future. My husband looked around and said, “Everyone always asks, ‘Where are all the good kids?’ They should see this. This is where the good kids are.”
The boys graduated high school and started college. My son and one of his friends went into computer programming, but Jason decided to become a doctor. I watched from a distance as he completed college and medical school and started his residency at a hospital far from home and family. I would see his posts on Facebook, and we got together a few times when he was home visiting. We always smile when we talk about Jason and laugh about how he would eat my husband’s favorite cookies when he came by our house or how he would bring six quarts of ice cream to my son’s apartment and leave three behind when he left.
So what happened to this bright, charming doctor-in-training? He’s not dead. But he could be.
Last night I saw a Facebook story he posted that said, “Stopped by the police pulling out of Quik Trip. Let’s see what I did this time!” This morning I saw his follow-up post: “Apparently ‘getting into your car without unlocking it’ is grounds for detainment and vehicle search.”
I was watching the morning news when I saw the post. I was looking at footage of an unarmed black man being tazed by a police officer and a young black girl asking a police officer through her tears if he was going to shoot her. And I found myself crying, too. I am not black, and I have never been on the receiving end of the blind prejudice that leads people to hate and fear others simply because of the color of their skin. But in that moment, I felt a small portion of the horror victims of prejudice must feel. I looked at Jason’s posts again and thought, what if that had been my son?
What if Jason hadn’t responded calmly when armed police officers pulled him over and told him to get of his car? What if he had reacted with anger over being stopped – again – without just cause? Would he have been arrested, or tazed, or beaten? Would he have been shot? What if that had been my son?
My son is not black, and I have never had to discuss with him how to respond if stopped by a police officer without just cause. I never had to say, “Keep calm. Answer respectfully. There might be a legitimate reason why you’ve been stopped.” I’ve never had to worry that the reason might not be legitimate – that it might be based on the racist belief that every black man is dangerous and guilty until proven innocent.
Jason is not dead because he kept calm and didn’t get angry. But today I am angry.
Let me say that again. I AM ANGRY.
I’m angry at police officers who misuse their authority to harass people out of anger, prejudice, or unjustified fear. I’m angry at their fellow officers who know better but do nothing because they don’t want to rock the boat. I’m angry at city and county officials who turn a blind eye to abuses of power, at police unions who protect the guilty, and at judges who do nothing more than slap the wrists of offenders who would be jailed if not for their uniforms. And I’m angry at my friends and neighbors who scoff at people calling for reform, refusing to believe there is anything wrong.
What if it was your son being pulled over and searched for “getting into a car without unlocking it”? What if it was your daughter being tazed and dragged from a car at a peaceful demonstration? What if it was your father laying on the ground bleeding after being shoved by a police officer? Wouldn’t you be angry? Wouldn’t you be livid?
These people aren’t my sons, daughters, or fathers, but they are my neighbors. When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” – this is who he meant (Matthew 22:39). When God commanded his people to “judge your neighbor fairly” – this is who he meant (Leviticus 19:15). When the Bible tells us to seek justice and to treat everyone with equal dignity – this is who it’s talking about. And when our neighbors are treated unfairly – again and again and again – we should be angry and we should demand justice.
You may think from what I’ve said that I am anti-police, but nothing could be further from the truth. I served as a prosecuting attorney for over 5 years. I worked with city police officers, deputy sheriffs, federal agents from numerous agencies, and even tribal police. I hold in great esteem the many men and women I’ve met who serve their communities with integrity, risking their own lives in the pursuit of peace and justice.
But not every person with a badge wears it with integrity. Some use their power and authority as a bludgeon to make themselves feel strong by making others weak. They foster distrust instead of peace and make their communities weaker instead of stronger. Their actions should be called out instead of being justified or swept aside.
I want my son and daughter to live in a community that is safe. I want them to be treated fairly. I don’t want to be afraid for them every time they go out because someone may target them based on the color of their skin. If I would fight for those things for my children I have to fight for them for everyone. I don’t want to be writing a eulogy for my son or for his black friend, but I wonder if it might come to that. It could if things don’t change. If we don’t change. And I think it might start with getting angry.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
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What is my mission as an author? The goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.