Because Black Lives Matter, Policing Needs Full-On Redemption, not Partial Reform
The thing about redemption is that sometimes, we don’t actually want it.
We say we want it.
Who wouldn’t want, as faith language so often puts it, to be “delivered from sin and death?”
Turns out pretty much those who don’t want to be confronted with their sin and the death it causes, or those who benefit from the sin, even if it causes death.
Case in point: as I’ve said before (OK fine: lots of times before), my New Testament professor at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Mark Allen Powell, taught that one can argue that the primary message of the Gospel of Luke is this:
Just as the poor should and will be redeemed from their poverty, so too should and will the rich be redeemed of their wealth.
That’s a, if not the, key takeaway via Luke: the redemption of economic inequity and all the messed up nonsense, not to mention death, it causes.
So who would want to be redeemed of poverty?
The poor, of course.
Who would want to be redeemed of wealth?
[waits a spell]
Not a lot of takers.
So why would this be?
Because being rich has perks: if you have money, especially more than enough money, you have food, you have secure housing, you have safe housing, you have clothing, you have health care, you have better schools, you have tech and internet access, you have leverage-worthy connections, and a Starbucks double latte is not a splurge but a choice: it’s either that or the triple macchiato.
As far as the perks of being poor…not so much.
The thing of it is, the poor and the wealthy are both harmed by their respective circumstances, by these two sides of the same coin: the poor do not have enough, and the rich have more than they need.
The set-up is death-dealing to the poor, and it’s death-dealing to the rich.
The only difference is that one group can see it, and the other doesn’t want to.
Redemption means a reversal, a righting, a re-writing of how things have been, so that things can be made new, more just, and more whole.
This is why the poor want redemption, and the rich do not.
Redemption changes the circumstances of the poor, which is a soon-and-very-soon long time in coming, and of the wealthy, which, if they’d have their druthers, would be staved off for a long time longer.
More fundamentally, redemption changes them.
The poor are no longer defined by their poverty, nor the rich by their wealth.
And that, that right there, that’s the tricky, scary piece about redemption, at least for those who are redeemed from their privilege.
Your privilege matters only long enough for it to be taken away.
Now, you have just you, the grace of God, and the mercy of others, including mercy extended by those whom you have had a history of oppressing.
Black Lives Matter.
There are so many reasons to say these words, but just saying them is a sign that redemption is en route.
To say Black Lives Matter means, just like Mary said (in the Gospel of Luke, of course), that we’re in the process of seeing that “…[The Lord] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly…”
This is precisely why these spoken, redemptive words, “Black Lives Matter,” so unsettle white people in power (and who among us who is white does not hold some modicum of power).
Redemption is coming.
The power dynamic is changing.
Circumstances are changing.
And we are being asked to change.
This is why redemption sounds good, but is way less welcome than you’d think.
Whites don’t want to change, at least not in the deep ways to which redemption calls us, because we like our privilege more than we like being redeemed of it.
We’ve seen all too often, and horribly, terribly, just again three days ago here in Minnesota, that Black Lives do not matter if you are a Black life stopped by the police.
If you are Black, that you have outdated tabs, or an air freshener hanging down from your mirror, or passed a counterfeit bill regardless of whether you knew, or were driving a new vehicle, or had a broken tail light, or are sleeping in your own bed, or are playing in your street, or are Driving While Black, all of these non-essentials matter more than your actual esse, more than your actual life does.
Because of this and for far too long, people of color have been crying out for the redemption of this system that kills them, of this way of policing that shows time and time and time again that racist violence is baked into the Blue.
Blacks want policing to be redeemed; to be made new, to be made more just, and to not be so damn broken.
But you know who doesn’t seem to want this redemption?
The police writ large.
Yes, there have been internal reforms.
Yes, there have been codified reforms.
Yes, millions have been spent on policing reforms.
But still and even so, Black people, Black men especially, keep getting shot by the police.
Racism is more powerful than reform, it seems.
That right there, that’s a circumstance, that’s a way of being, that’s a truth in need of redemption.
Blacks, and police, are both harmed by their respective circumstances, two sides of the same coin: Blacks are victims of racism, and policing is racist.
So of course Blue Lives Matter.
But the Blue Way of Life does not matter more than Black Lives.
The Blue Way of Life—one fueled not just by racism, but by classism, violence, mistrust, hostility, power, incarceration culture, and indemnity—is killing Black Lives.
From headquarters to holsters, policing policies and culture kill Blacks.
So it needs to be redeemed, it needs to be made new again, it needs to be made more just, and it needs not only to be not so broken, but to stop breaking so many people.
After so many attempts at reforms, whether policing can be redeemed in its present form is no longer a question: it can’t.
Whether policing is open to being redeemed at all, that is a question.
Policing is fully aware that, if redeemed, it will have much to lose: authoritarian power, presumptive immunity, and the addiction to white supremacy.
But better that policing loses its way of life than that one more Black life get lost to policing.
Reform is not enough.
Policing needs to be redeemed, delivered from sin and death, freeing blacks who suffer them at the hands of police, and freeing police who wield them against Blacks, whose lives do, indeed, all evidence to the contrary, matter.
Further information related to police reform:
Nine criminal justice experts offer suggestions how to reform police found here.
Human Rights Watch offers 14 ways that police can be reformed, including community investing, here.
The New York Times engaged five experts to discuss police reform here.
The Guardian delves into why police reform has failed here.
Yale University analyzes the last five years of police shooting and its static racial disparity here.
The Nation digs into the history of policing to show its inherent and intransigent racism here.