Police Brutality: How Should Christians Respond?
By Rev. Paul J. Bern
An unarmed black man was shot to death by police in an Atlanta suburb this past week. I live a 30-minute drive away from the location of the shooting, and I sometimes buy groceries at a discount grocery chain not far from there, so I’ve driven – or lately ridden on the bus – right through that area. It is one thing to see this stuff about police shootings – or any shooting for that matter – on the evening news, but the frightening spectre of police violence against the very citizens they are sworn to protect only miles from my apartment brings it all home to roost. A New York Times article from March 10, 2015 had the following headline:
Police Killing of Unarmed Georgia Man Leaves Another Town in Disbelief
By RICHARD FAUSSET, NYT, MARCH 10, 2015
“CHAMBLEE, Ga. — Witnesses to the fatal police shooting of an African-American man gave differing accounts Tuesday. But they all ended with a similar question: Why was it necessary to shoot Anthony Hill, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran who was naked and unarmed?
The shooting, which occurred early Monday afternoon, has prompted mourning, confusion and anger in the apartment complex northeast of Atlanta where Mr. Hill lived.
“He was a calm, friendly person,” said Julio Hernandez, 54, a groundskeeper at the complex whose 14-year-old son rode skateboards with Mr. Hill. “To me, this was police abuse, because what can a naked person do?”
On his social media accounts, Mr. Hill, an aspiring musician, hinted that he had a mental illness. And most everyone who saw him at the apartments Monday said his behavior was bizarre in the extreme in the moments before the police arrived. Mr. Hill, they said, had been lying on the ground, semi-clothed and then naked, and had been jumping repeatedly off his second-story balcony.
The shooting is the third police killing of an unarmed or apparently unarmed black man in the last five days, following shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Madison, Wis. They have occurred as the nation considers race, policing and lethal force in the wake of the killing of another unarmed black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., in August……”
Just days before, another shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer occurred in Madison, Wisconsin, which resulted in a massive protest on March 9th, the day before the Atlanta shooting, as the following Washington Post headline attests:
Protests continue in Madison after shooting; police chief apologizes to community
By Mark Berman, Washington Post, March 9, 2015
“Demonstrations continued Monday over the death of an unarmed black man shot and killed by a Madison police officer Friday night, as protests in Wisconsin’s second-largest city stretched into a fourth day and reached the heart of the state’s government.
A large crowd gathered inside the rotunda of the state capitol, about a mile from the apartment where Anthony Robinson, 19, was shot after what authorities described as a struggle with a police officer.
Robinson’s death sparked outrage and drew national attention over the weekend, becoming the latest incident involving a black man dying at the hands of the police. Michael Koval, Madison’s police chief, said he understood how it seemed to fit the narrative that has spurred an ongoing conversation over race and policing, but he pleaded with people for patience while investigations are carried out.
A rally on the campus of the University of Wisconsin took place Monday before students marched to the state capitol, and the demonstrations and actions remained calm and peaceful, with no reported arrests or other issues. Many of the protesters who gathered at the capitol building were high school students who came to attend the rally, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. March organizers had posted on Facebook, asking high school students to walk out of classes Monday morning……”
And let’s not forget that two Ferguson, Mo. cops got shot the other night, and they have no idea who did it. That’s probably because whoever did it used a small caliber rifle such as a .22, from some distance away, with a scope on it, possibly even a night-vision scope, and the police know it. Because of all this, cops all over the country have taken a shoot first and ask questions later stance when it comes to how they do their jobs. But what law enforcement fails to realize is that if they weren’t shooting unarmed people, the American people wouldn’t be so upset in the first place. That’s just what’s on the surface. What’s underneath is that between 85-90% of police shootings in America in the last 10 years have been white officers shooting black suspects, the overwhelming majority of whom were unarmed. So the shootings, or most of them, are evidently racially motivated. Is it any wonder that people everywhere are furious with the police, especially people of color? Is it any wonder that no one trusts them anymore (including this author, who prefers to take matters into his own hands)? What should we do about this and still be legal? After all, if we don’t stay legal we’re just giving the cops a reason to shoot at us. Unless, of course, we decide to shoot back. But then we’re talking civil war. Do we really want that? As far as I am concerned, armed revolt should only be considered as a matter of last resort. Before things come down to that, I have some ideas that I would like to see everyone put into practice first. If these don’t work, maybe then we should talk further.
The first thing Christian Americans need to realize is that we’re not living in a democracy, and we haven’t been ever since Nov, 22,1963, when president John Kennedy was assassinated. It isn’t a democracy at all. It’s a tyrannical oligarchy of the worst kind: one that’s disguised as a democracy and hidden behind the smoke and mirrors of political propaganda. Just because governmental decrees are no longer issued by royal fiat but are instead issued by lobbying and propaganda, doesn’t make it any less tyrannical. It is nothing more than inverted totalitarianism. And it is our responsibility, if we would be proactive citizens, to revert this totalitarianism. The 99% must turn the tables on the 1% or we will not survive as a species on this planet. It’s as simple as that. Here are four ways we can turn the tables on tyrannical oligarchy without firing a shot:
1.) Shame the Rich By Mocking Plutocracy
While the world goes through the motions of getting poorer and poorer the moneyed elite are getting richer and richer, to the extent that it is costing people their lives. We must be able to muster the courage to put our foot down and draw a line in the sand. A declaration of emergence is needed. The current demonstrations against police brutality taking place in America’s streets is the new ‘occupy’ movement. One way to put our foot down is to mock the plutocratic entities that have a monopoly on power and to ridicule the cult of personality. Shame is a very powerful psychological motivator. The sooner we make them realize that they have to be morally responsible with their power, the sooner we will be able to bring balance to the world. And the way we make them realize it is through the stultifying effect of shame. Like Confucius said, “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” And have no illusions, countries the world over are badly governed. Through a healthy mockery of their power we inadvertently get power over power and turn the tables on the power dynamic.
2.) Defy the Police State
A primary purpose of the police is to enforce the delusions of those with lots of pieces of green paper. Those without the green papers generally buy into these delusions almost as quickly and completely as those with. These delusions carry with them extreme consequences in the real world. No longer do police act in the capacity of peace officers. Now they are simply hired thugs of a government that no longer has the best interest of the people at heart. Like George Orwell said, “The capitalist society is a police society where the number one goal is the protection of upper class property.” While the governments of the world have been taken over by corporate interests, bankers and special interest groups, our countries have been turned into police states. Black-booted police state beware, your fascist violence is no match for our creative freedom. The so called “herd” is methodically being populated with wolves in sheep clothing, and we will bite if we’re cornered. We can turn the tables on the police state by mocking it like Pussy Riot mocked Putin, and like Anonymous mocks power.
3.) Ridicule the NDAA
As it stands, The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is the most diabolically authoritarian law to ever come down the governmental chute. It’s anti-freedom in the name of security, the most deceptive kind of law. The NDAA is a greater threat to our national liberty than the terrorism from which it claims to protect us from. It impermissibly impinges on guaranteed First Amendment rights and lacks sufficient protections to meet the requirements of due process. Simply put, it is an instrument for the government to restrain the people. The Constitution used to be an instrument for the people to constrain the government, but with legislation like the NDAA and the Patriot Act, the instrument of the constitution is useless and no longer holds a tune. It’s past time that we get out there and petitioned against the NDAA. We must ridicule it. We must scorn it to the nth degree. Blaspheme it in the face of the president if need be. Inform people about how corrupt it really is. People will remain ignorant as long as we allow them to be. Let’s not allow them to be; not only for the sake of their freedom but for our own, as well as for the freedom of our children and our children’s children. People are born to be free. Ridiculing acts like the NDAA, and attempting to abolish them, are ways of safeguarding such freedoms.
4.) Challenge the Mass Surveillance State
Beginning with the adoption of the Patriot Act in 2001 (The government’s backbone-less, scared-stupid response to 9-11) the floodgates opened for covert government surveillance not only for the NSA, FBI, CIA and Homeland Security but for hundreds of municipal and state governments, a green light to infiltrate and spy on millions of American citizens. Now FISA is a dead horse that’s been beaten beyond recognition, because it has been morphed into a vehicle of covert means shielded from effective oversight through countless amendments by the Bush and Obama administrations. And now congress itself is hung-up on the fear-mongering tactics of the War on Terror. It is now up to us, “We the People”, to challenge this surveillance state, unless we inadvertently become what George Orwell warned us against in his novel 1984. Leaking information has become the civil disobedience of our age. The late historian and activist Howard Zinn described the act of civil disobedience as “the deliberate, discriminate violation of law for a vital social purpose… Such acts become not only justifiable but necessary when a fundamental human right is at stake and when legal channels are inadequate for securing that right.” Even Thomas Jefferson realized it, writing, “If a law is unjust, a man is not only correct to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”
Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Jeremy Hammond, and the late Aaron Swartz have all continued the tradition of civil disobedience by revealing the details of global mass surveillance programs. It’s time for us to change the tune. It’s time to interrupt their corrupt dance. It’s time to challenge the powers that be. Nothing short of the survival of the human species is at stake. If we are going to proclaim ourselves Christians, then we have a responsibility to oppose that which is corrupt, unjust, unfair and which poses a threat. Evil must at all times be resisted with good. Not through some imaginary fist-fight between good and evil, all that is just Hollywood imagery. I’m talking about resisting evil in the Spiritual realm through prayer, faith, love and good works whenever possible. Passive resistance works as well in the Spiritual world as it does in the physical, so use it whenever possible. Let the peace of Christ, which is beyond all human understanding, be with you all. Stop the shooting, everybody – police and civilians alike, you’re only making matters worse! We can either live in peace together or die fighting each other. I’d say the first choice is a lot more palatable to me, not to mention a lot smarter.