Whatever you think about #blacklivesmatter, #alllivesmatter, or #bluelivesmatter, we can all agree that America has a serious problem with race and policing.
I am extremely grateful for our law enforcement officials who come to our rescue in emergencies and who help us reign in criminals. Police are faced with split second life/death decisions in the midst of extremely intense encounters, and 99.999% of the time, they perform their duties with honor and integrity. They put their lives on the line daily so that we don’t have to. That is worthy of our respect.
Also, let’s be honest about this. Crime is more common among the black community. Sure, that’s at least partly because that community is often the urban poor with bad schools and few options. Racism may also incline us toward a higher arrest and conviction rate for black offenders. But simple statistics show that black men are disproportionately likely to commit violent crimes.
We can and should debate the why and the how of these statistics. However, we must also honestly admit that when an average white guy (especially a cop) sees a black guy, these violent statistics are in mind. Most white people feel a little bit afraid of black men, even if they don’t want to feel that way, even if they have black men for friends. Let’s just be honest and admit our racism - and admit that our prejudice is at least partly founded in reality, painful as that reality is.
I’m racist in this way, and you probably are too.
Yet we also need to be honest about the other side of the problem. This racism, founded or not, rare or not, is corrupting the integrity of our justice system.
Black men are dying at the hands of police in sketchy situations, with little to no legal recourse for their families. In the past 18 months, 50 unarmed black men have been killed by police. (To be fair, 78 people of other ethnicities were also unarmed and shot by police during the same time period, but the 39% of black victims far exceeds the 13% of the US population that is black.)
Black men are stopped in traffic more frequently than any other ethnicity. Black families must give their children "the talk" about how to not get killed by police. (Many parents and communities continually explain that toy guns just aren’t safe toys for black children in our society.) Increasingly, the black community does not trust that the police will keep them safe nor treat them fairly.
Once arrested, the justice system is stacked against them. Black men are more likely to be convicted and more likely to receive harsher sentences. Even when law officials do everything fairly, juries and judges are still more likely to convict and to punish black men because of our deeply ingrained (and partially grounded) racism.
We need healing. From top to bottom, from left to right, our society is in desperate need of healing.
There are no simple solutions, but there are solutions - long, slow, plodding, and often painful solutions.
Here are a few ideas (some personal and some policy) that will help us become a healthier and more peaceful nation.
- Befriend a Black Man. The only true cure for racism is friendship. If you’re wondering what you can do about America’s problem with racism, you can start with your own friendship circle. Go out of your way - literally to a different place if you have to - to make friends with people of different ethnicities. Then, invite your other white friends to join you in those multicultural friendship settings. Simply knowing and loving one another will change us and change our nation. (Most of my readers are white, but if you’re black, befriend a white man.)
- Intentionally Hire Diversity. If you are an employer, make sure your workforce represents your community. Ask your schools and police departments to hire teachers, cops, and administrators of all colors. Relationships matter, and the workplace is one of our key centers of relationships.
- Increase Police Monitoring. Much of the current conversation about racism in our justice system has been spurred on by citizen journalists who have simply pulled out their cameras and taken videos. I imagine that this is very uncomfortable for police, and I’m sorry for that. However, I also know that these videos are incredibly important in preventing the sweeping-under-the-rug of brutality and mistakes. Police must know that there are no secrets.
- Become a Multicultural Church. Sunday morning is STILL is the most segregated time in America. This is a travesty of the gospel. We as the church have the opportunity to radically change how America deals with racism by living into our identity as the multicultural people of God. Intentionally seek out all the ethnicities in your community. If you live in a mostly white area, develop a partnership with a church of another ethnicity. We can change the future of our nation simply by embracing each other.
- Federal Investigation of All Police Killings. Locals investigating locals radically increases the chances of cover-up and inappropriately light discipline. Anytime a policeman kills a civilian, whether armed or unarmed, federal investigators should take over the investigation.
- National Data Base. Knowing is half the battle. Our federal, state, local police, county, national park police force is so fragmented that information cannot be shared effectively. We are stuck with journalists scouring local news sites to come up with reliable statistics about what is happening on a national scale.
- Increase Community Partnerships. We don’t trust those we don’t know. We need federal funding to help police to mix deeply with the African-American communities they serve. This will help on both sides. Average Jamal’s will trust the police more, and police will have a higher starting point of trust for the Jamals they meet.
- More and Better Body Cameras. I know body cameras are new, and we’re still adapting to this technology, but body cameras should not fall off during conflicts. We need extremely durable and reliable cameras on all police in all street situations.
- Better Pay. If we expect more of our police, we need to pay them more. If we want our best citizens policing our streets, we need to reward them as such. (Same goes for teachers, firefighters, and EMT’s, by the way.)
- Double Down on Poverty. We know that poverty and crime go hand in hand. We know that many of the struggles of African Americans are intimately related to urban poverty. As a society, we need to invest even more deeply in the schools, hospitals, churches, mentoring programs, and other social structures of our urban and poor communities. This is long and slow, and many are already doing this good work. We just need more.
We have made tremendous progress in America over the past 150 years. Slavery is illegal. Lynchings are gone. Colored water fountains are gone. Schools are integrated (mostly). People of all colors have the same legal rights. People of all colors can vote. We’ve come a long, long way in just a few generations.
But we still have a long way to go. And you can help.