Friday, July 15, 2016

To Those Lives Who are Bruised (Black and Blue)

NOTE: I've updated this to include Officer Jackson. I hate that. I hate that our world is so broken. Any loss of life, of any kind, any where, is not how it should be. Come, Lord Jesus. We need you desperately.

Dear Black and Blue Lives,

Let me emphasize that I see the significance of the word play there. As a unique segment of the population, black police officers are caught in the middle--in the cross-fire, if you will. You are black and blue, bruised and beaten. You are exhausted, both by your actual police work and with all the social implications surrounding that work.

I want to see you, faithful officers. I want to see, and respect, and honor you and your families. I want to lament with you, and try to understand the difficult space you inhabit as you are all-too-often forced to choose whose side you are on. I want to be on your side--because you are made in the image of God--even when I may disagree with your social media statements or be confused by your actions. I want you to know that I'm grateful. That I want to learn more about the dangers you face and the sacrifices you make.

To the "Salty Dad/Sharp young Black Officer" whose thoughts I read on Facebook, I want to say thank you for your service, and for sharing. I agree that we are in a "sad state of affairs" as humans. Your own experience with the violence in your childhood showcases that. I am so sorry that you had to grow up surrounded by fear. I am so sorry that you have had to see so many young black men die at the hands of other young black men in your work as a police officer. I cannot imagine what it is like to so vividly know the "unforgettable smell of deoxygenated dark red blood in the air" and to feel so helpless and weary. I wish more people on both sides would read your post and hear how "heartbreak weighs [you] down, rage flows through [your] veins, and tears fill [your] eyes." I am not going to argue about the statistics you've presented, because the irony is that the supposedly indisputable facts presented on all sides don't really change anything. The facts I want to take in are that you are tired, and scared, and unappreciated, and vilified by people from all positions. The facts that are, to me, indisputable, are that you risk your life daily and you feel like it's maybe all for nothing. I don't want to let the black-on-black crime narrative or the police brutality narrative drown out your story. It seems we disagree somewhat on what the problem is, and perhaps even moreso on what the solutions should be, but your Black and Blue Life Matters, no matter what anyone says, and no matter what mistakes you do or don't make, and I am grateful for you.

To Officer Liquori Tate, of Hattiesburg, MS, I want to say, thank you for your faithful and short-lived service. I mourn your death. I weep with your family at your loss. You paid the ultimate price, and there is no way to repay or even fully vindicate that, but you are remembered, by black lives and blue lives alike. Your life mattered. And not even because you fought hard to escape stereotypes and societal expectations of young black men. Not even because you were a good officer, described by fellow officers as having an "infectious joy", or because you were an upstanding citizen, or because you were a hero to your family and community. No--your Black and Blue Life Mattered (and still does) because you were made in the image of a holy God, and worthy of dignity and respect. A violent act took away your life, but it couldn't take away your value as a human being. I am grateful for you.

To Officer Montrell Jackson, of Baton Rouge, LA, I want to say, thank you for your willingness to serve, even when you felt like your city maybe didn't love you. Thank you for your ultimate sacrifice, which feels so pointless but must not be. We cannot let your death mean nothing. Your wife and baby boy cannot have lost you for nothing. Your sacrifice (and theirs) must be remembered. Your son will grow up without his father, but I pray, and hope, and cry out to the Lord that he will grow up in a city that loves him, values him, neither fears nor targets him. Your wife is now a single black mother, and I pray, and hope, and cry out to the Lord that she won't be judged or regarded with suspicion and contempt. Just as the legacy of the men and women of Mother Emmanuel who lost their lives ultimately ended up being the SC flag coming down, may your legacy be that change comes, and hearts are broken and healed anew, that a little more shalom comes on earth as it is in heaven. Your sister got the news while she was in church, and "didn't want to break down in church"--but perhaps that is the problem. We in the church don't allow for this pain--to weep, lament, and cry as the Psalmist and others did. We need to break down over your death, Officer Jackson, as well as the other officers, and Baton Rouge's citizens. We need to being willing to give everything--as you did--even if "everything" just looks like our comfort and our desire for easy solutions. Thank you for so bravely and graciously existing in the difficult middle ground. Your Black and Blue Life Mattered (and still does). I am grateful for you.

To Dallas Police Chief David Brown, I want to say thank you for your service and vulnerability. I cannot imagine the grief and shame you went through when your son's mental illness drove him to shoot both a police officer and a civilian. I can only imagine the frustration and despair you are feeling as all the work your department has done to decrease both crime and excessive force complaints was undermined by the heinous crime of a person who lost his value for all life. I may disagree that Black Lives Matter folks leaving the protest lines to join the police is a comprehensive solution, but your point is well-made that you are working hard to remove the need for protests. Your comment that you've "been black a long time, so [the bridge between police and black communities is] not much of a bridge" for you made me both laugh and sigh. What an exhausting place to be in--to be both and neither. To be constantly having to defend yourself as a black man, even as you have to defend yourself as a police officer. As a multi-ethnic woman, I have just a small idea of what that's like, and I'm sorry that you are caught in the middle and expected to always be a bridge-builder. I see you, sir, and I see your bravery, and determination, and heart. I don't want to let--I refuse to let--(necessary) discussions about gun-control and peaceful protests and mental illness completely blind me to seeing you, to saying that your Black and Blue Life Matters. I am grateful for you.

To Officer Nakia Jones, I want to say, thank you for your service and your passion. Thank you for being the Other three times over, a "double-minority," as a a black police woman. I hear your heart's cry, and I weep with you. I weep with you for the things you've experienced, and I rejoice for the barriers you've broken down. I hear your hurts. I love your delight in "wearing the blue" and I applaud your strong words calling for racist white officers to take that uniform off. And though I might say that it's not just white officers who are believing lies about the value of black lives, and thus we can't just remove all the racist white officers and expect everything to be fixed, I heard so much nuance in your speech. What a joy to hear you call both sides to task and ask for change from all communities involved. There are no simple answers, and as a working mom, you get that. I think of your children, and I hear them in the background, and I think of how much you sacrifice and juggle to be able to put on that uniform each day. And I am overwhelmed with your wisdom and strength. Your beautiful Black and Blue Life Matters. It matters to your family, and your community, and people like me that you'll probably never meet. I am grateful for you.

To bruised and battered Black and Blue lives all over the country (and world), I want to say, thank you. May God grant you peace, and safety, and a strong community in which to serve faithfully. May God heal the ways that lies may have crept into your own minds about the value of black lives and even your own lives. May God comfort you and your families in these uniquely heartbreaking times as well as in the daily exhaustion that comes with police work. I repent of the ways I've either forgotten about you or stereotyped you. Please forgive me for how I've bought into the us vs. them, black folks vs. police mentality. Thank you for standing in the gap. Thank you for your willingness to serve, to wrestle with complex issues, for your very lives. Wonderful, precious Black and Blue Lives that Matter because they matter to God.

With respect and gratitude,
A Fellow Citizen