A popular Christian children’s song says, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Jesus might love the little children of the world, but it’s difficult to find Jesus in America these days. That’s because when a Ferguson, Missouri police officer gunned down unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown with a half dozen bullets, no ambulance arrived to examine him, the police waited four hours to remove his body from the street, and protecting the shooter appeared far more important to the police than pursuing justice for the black body that was slain. Moreover, this is not the first instance of police violence against an unarmed black man that has resulted in death in the last five weeks. Since July 17, when an NYPD officer choked Eric Garner to death after he was trying to break up a fight, police violence has taken the lives of at least three more unarmed black men with little to no consequences for the officers and very little outrage from white society.
Thus, the question that hangs over America today is this: Do black lives matter?
Instead of outrage or concern for the loss of black lives, Ferguson law enforcement and some 47 percent of white people, who believe that race is not a factor in police violence in Ferguson, have offered distractions from the tragedy that an unarmed black citizen’s body was riddled with bullets and left for hours with no explanation. (It’s also a reality that 18 percent of black Americans echo these distractions.) Distractors cite riots, black-on-black crime, and alleged bad behavior to draw attention away from the urgently needed changes in police behavior that will affirm that all life, even black life, is precious.
One of the most frequent tactics distractors use is their outrage over rioting.
These folks conveniently omit that just last year white people rioted over the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory which resulted in dozens of arrests, numerous assaults, busted out business windows, and other forms of property damage. Similarly, no one attempted to tie the 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers riots—which included assaults, looting, arson and other damages totaling more than $150,000—to barbarism endemic to white people.
Distractors only tie riots to racial character and barbarism when they are the result of black riots over racism. They may even reference Martin Luther King Jr’s non-violent approach to support their views, but King understood that in black neighborhoods a “riot is the language of the unheard.”This led him to ask, “What is it America has failed to hear?” King hesitated to condemn rioting in 1968 because he saw it as “morally irresponsible to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society.” Distractors aren’t condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that brought this about, nor are they concerned about the unarmed lifeless body.
Question: Do black lives matter?
Distractors: Not if they riot.
In a rhetorical turnabout, distractors critique black voices calling for justice by citing the “black community’s” lack of attention to black-on-black crime.
White-on-white violence, which accounts for 84 percent of violence against white people, is nearly as high as “black-on-black” violence. However, white-on-white violence is not even debated as a concept. Instead, distractors use “black-on-black” crime as a tool to argue that black people don’t truly care about one another. They argue that black folks only cite blue-on-black violence or white-on-black violence as an excuse to play the victims of a racist society.
Distractors fail to mention, often because they aren’t intimately acquainted with happenings in major cities, that urban schools, churches, and non-profit organizations receive grants, organize vigils, and develop programs to teach children alternatives to violence. Black celebrities from KRS-1 to Stevie Wonder have written songs against urban violence. On May 2 of this year in Chicago, a city that distractors often cite for “black-on-black” crime, South Side students organized to protest violence and proclaim it as a National Day Against Hate. In addition, Black Americans overwhelmingly support tougher background checks for gun purchases, 84 percent, and banning assault weapons, 68 percent, due largely to the amount of violence black folk experience and see in our city neighborhoods.
There’s a reason that black people respond differently to violence from the police. The police have contact with neighborhood residents, but do not have relationships with them. The Christian mystic Howard Thurman has said, “Hatred begins where there is contact without fellowship.”Muslim leader Malcolm X explained that the inaccessibility of the police creates the conditions for rioting. He says, “Since the people who do this aren’t there, [blacks] react against their property. The property is the only thing that’s there. And they destroy it.” Rather than understand the reaction, distractors implicitly blame the victims of excessive force by the police.
Question: Do black lives matter?
Distractors: Not if black people kill other black people.
The most degrading distractions that we face are propagandistic attempts to discredit the lives of the unarmed victims.
Days after the Ferguson shooting, the police offered up a video of someone who appears to be Michael Brown shoving a store owner and walking out the door. At the same time, Police Chief Tom Jackson made it very clear that the officer who shot Brown did not know about the incident at the store, but they released the video anyway. Why release the video? For the same reason that after George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin the media broadcast Martin’s school attendance and discipline records; and for the same reason that they broadcast that Eric Garner had previously sold illegal cigarettes. Simply put, the goal of this type of propaganda is to convince the public that the deceased was “no angel,” a thug, whose life was not worth living.
Question: Do black lives matter?
Distractors: Not if they are thugs.
A year ago, a white teenager high on mushrooms entered Beaverton, OR city hall, wrestled with the police, even took one of their guns and fired it into a wall. The young man lived to be detained and placed in jail with only a few bruises to show for it. His life mattered.
That should be the lesson of Ferguson, all life matters.
America needs to find Jesus, lover of all children, who rioted in the Temple and who taught, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” If Jesus is where the people gather, then perhaps we’ll find Jesus among the rioters and protesters. Perhaps, the outrage of Ferguson embodies his message. Perhaps, in proclaiming “black lives matter,” Ferguson became the hands and feet of Jesus. Perhaps, it is time to turn our eyes from distractions to the people of Ferguson, the incarnate voice of Jesus, who sing with their lives, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.”