The delivery of a guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial was the beginning of one kind of justice. As many have said, true justice would have been witnessed by a living George Floyd, not one who had been the victim of horrific brutality. But Mr. Floyd is dead, and even as the blessing of a clear and unambiguous conviction was bringing some measure of hope, others were still dying. Daunte Wright, killed when a policewoman used her gun instead of her Taser. Adam Toledo, thirteen years old, shot dead. Where is the justice in those events?
We like to hang around in those places where we can be hopeful and joyful, where it is possible that those police officers who are the evil ones get prosecuted and convicted, where it is possible that the thin blue line has been breached by the recognition that killing someone in the way that Chauvin did is a blight on the good work that so many other police officers do, where a bill pushing for reform of the justice system that has been such a tool of systemic racism over the centuries has some sort of chance of passage. We want to believe that things are changing.
Maybe they are, but maybe not. Black and Brown people are still being shot, folks with a misdemeanor warrant outstanding end up dead, a soldier is stopped for no good reason and gets pepper sprayed when he asks why he’s being stopped, and there is still no justice for Breonna Taylor and her family.
We are in that uncomfortable space where we want to hope but reality keeps smacking us in the face.
It’s a Holy Saturday moment. Jesus is dead and in the cave. We do not know he will rise from the dead on Easter Sunday. All we know is that we are frightened, miserable, wanting to hope but not yet trusting that hope is safe.
How do we sit in this uncomfortable place? Where is wellspring of the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15)? How can we imagine a world where “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10)?
It seems to elude us, and we want to grasp for it, but we wonder how.
I’ve found myself thinking about the balance of the notion of the Judgement Seat and the Mercy Seat in Scripture. God’s judgment is always tempered by mercy. It is in God’s nature, certainly expressed in Jesus’ own words, that there is always a leaning toward mercy.
I’ve also found myself thinking of the police I’ve known over the years. My grandfather was one. I never knew him. Grandpa Charlie died decades before I was born. He was said to be a kind and gentle sort, although it’s easy to valorize someone whose history is known only through the stories of the daughter who adored him. The police I interacted with as a protester against the Vietnam War, who were generally tolerant of us, although it must ve said that we were mostly White youngsters. The police who were at the home of someone whom I pastored, when that person had died in awful circumstances. The police bringing someone into the ER when I was a hospital chaplain. Some were kind and gentle, some were hard and cold. Human beings. There were potential Chauvins among them, and there were potential Grandpa Charlies. Circumstances, training, prior experience – they all shape who we are and how we act, and police are, after all, humans. I’d hope and pray for more Charlies and fewer Chauvins.
So how can I trust in what I hope for? Some things have to get thrown out the window and some new things need to be a part of the program. Teaching de-escalation techniques when tempers are high. Moving responsibility for dealing with people experiencing homelessness or for helping those in mental health crises (in some areas, up to 20% of police calls) to those who can holistically and sensitively respond to their needs. Different terms of engagement for those very rare instances where lethal force may be called for. Cultural sensitivity training. And no more SWAT teams with second-hand military equipment. There’s that old saw about “if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” If you’ve got fancy equipment, your inclination is to assume that it can be used in all sorts of situations where it is inappropriate.
There are other things that could be a part of a different view of what policing is and isn’t. Strong community involvement, which has been a game-changer in some localities. Participation and partnership with faith communities – don’t be the enemy of one side or the other, be a bridge.
That psalm that talks about righteousness and mercy kissing? The very next verse says something interesting: “Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.” Faithful action and advocacy springs up from every one of us, speaking about change to a system that has failed so many of our siblings. It’s grassroots work, local work. Righteousness comes from above – the wisdom we’ve learned from our God about what love looks like, the understanding that God has the last word when it comes to the judgment business, and that re-creating of the world around us to bring the world a little closer to God’s intent.
There’s still some hope left in me, and I pray there is in you as well. When I struggle, when I feel on the edge of despair, I get up to do something to get myself out of my own head and into the world. I feel the eyes of God on me. I take a small step to make change. If enough of us do so, it will make a difference.
So I hope. So I pray.
Some resources for additional reading:
The Rev. Dr. Mary Brennan Thorpe is the former Canon to the Ordinary in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, currently doing consulting work for churches in transition. She is the author of “On the Emmaus Road: A Guide for Transitions in Ordained Leadership” (Church Publishing Co. 2020) and has been a RevGalBlogPal since what seems like the dawn of time. She has just launched her new blog at The Chronic Crone-ish Canon.
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