We are living in difficult times.
Sometimes it’s hard to see that from our vantage. Our comfortable homes and easy lives are largely spared the conflict and tension that many are living. But that is the point, isn’t it? Say “Black Lives Matter” in our neighborhoods, and you’re likely to meet silence or a sigh, if not rolled eyes or a noisy objection.
But black lives do matter – and that movement is not about grandstanding or political posturing, it’s not a movement of rabble rousers with nothing better to do. And it’s not the same as “all lives matter.” Of course they do, but in the aftermath of the last two years, of reports that have become so commonplace that it almost doesn’t sound like news any more, we don’t need to make a case that some lives matter – and we continue to make a strong case that black lives, in fact, don’t matter as they should.
In 2014 the NAACP Legal Defense Fund named 76 persons of color, killed in police custody in a fifteen-year period. Of course there are stories to every case, extenuating circumstances, “reasons” and “causes,” but we need only reverse the situation to call our attention to the injustice. We can’t even think of what it would mean if the 76 deceased were white, those who did the killing were black.
It’s just unthinkable. But we need to think about it.
So, this month, when a white CMPD officer was released from the charges of using excessive force to kill an unarmed black man, the deep pain of “justice denied” shot through our community. Thank God we were spared the violence and protests that have roiled other American cities. Charlotte’s mayor told a small gathering of clergy, called the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice (CCCJ), that we were responsible for that.
I don’t put full stock in that, but I sat before our city’s leading official last week when he made the statement, and there is no doubt of his sincerity. We talked about what the CCCJ did prior to this trial: our meetings, our communication with our congregations, the sense of good will that spread through our prayers and concerns for the trial, the decision, the city’s response – and we talked about what we might do, now.
Coming out of the jury’s not-surprising, but unfortunate inability to offer any decision, what might we do to use this crisis to better our city? Policies… training… communication… connecting officers with the neighborhoods they serve, these were all part of our open, healthy, hopeful dialogue.
And that dialogue was repeated two days later when we sat before an equally impressive Chief of Police. The chief began by defining terms for us, “lethal cover” versus “lethal force,” how “cover” could be justified in many instances when “force” was not. And then we also talked about the same possible changes as our community moves forward. We will have another meeting this week, with the Mayor, the Chief, and representatives from the City Council.
I hope you will “hold us in the light” as we work together.
There is much that needs to be said, that needs to be addressed, that needs to be changed, and I am prayerful that our work in Charlotte might stand as an example across the country.