LIVING AS APPRENTICES
“THERE’S A COP! Watch out!” When I married a black man, one of the many things I was not prepared for was a hyper-vigilance for police cars and police officers. I was raised in a white middle class neighborhood and learned, “The policeman is your friend.” My husband grew up on the eastern side of Michigan and his teen-age children lived in Chicago. The policeman was definitely NOT their friend. It took many stories and many shared experiences before I recognized the truth. A policeman was my friend, but most often cops assumed the worst when they interacted with my husband and step-son.
Interactions between the police and the justice system and the black community have been back in the news since Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida in 2o12. The recent cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Eric Garner in New York City, and Tamir Rice in Cleveland are fueling the fire. In all the media furor, a recent column by syndicated columnist Michael Gerson caught my attention. Gerson says:
Why do circumstances such as [the Ferguson incident] reveal such dramatically different views of police, courts and the basic fairness of our society? Why do some citizens of our country feel so tenuously connected to its promises and protections?
If I lived in a nation that had systematically oppressed people of my background for hundreds of years; that was utterly indifferent to the failure of the school my child attends; that disproportionately profiles, harasses and even jails people like me for minor legal offenses; that offers little realistic hope that my children will be treated better than I am, then I might feel differently about the justice and compassion of my society.
This is not an excuse of violence – really community self-immolation – but it is an explanation for deeply rooted suspicion. Why should this theoretical me expect one portion of our civic infrastructure – the legal system – to be fair and level when the rest seems tilted at a steep upward angle?
This may seem naive, but my reading of the Gospels tells me that Jesus expects his followers to create an equal playing field for all of God’s children. We need to be part of the action to “re-tilt” the world one neighborhood at a time so that my family’s black grandchildren (future Trayvons and Michaels and Erics and Tamirs) can expect the same opportunities, the same education, the same feeling of security and fair play as my family’s blond and blue-eyed grandchildren.