I’m going to have to stand in a pulpit with the team of church leaders at my church in Englewood on Sunday. Our congregation is Black. Our community is Black. We are Black. It will be difficult do leave the issue of the execution of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the countless other Black people unaddressed in the gathering. We will probably continue with our preaching series for the main sermon, but if I had to deliver a sermonette on this issue I’d give it the title: “F— The Police.” I would take as my text Psalm 82 verse 3 and 4:
Defend the poor and the fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; free them from the hand of the wicked.
My sermon would not be a call to peace and forgiveness (and I believe deeply in peace and forgiveness). But, this sermon would be a clarion call to righteous indignation over the state of affairs in our country in which the force of law is consistently used to unnecessarily end the lives of poor, Black people in America. I would dismiss the faulty notion that race is not the great motivator for this brutality. Black males aged 16 to 19, I’d tell the congregation, are
21 times more likely to be killed by the police than white males in that age group.
Unarmed Black men are seven times more likely to be killed by police than are unarmed white men. This is about race. It is an expression of the racism and oppression that has been the great stain upon our nation’s legacy from the beginning. So yes. I would say to our congregation that it is our righteous duty to say F— the police. There is no other option. But, there are some options on how we might do this. We might
Fix the Police. Over and over again police officers execute Black people and get away with it. The reasons for these killings are too expansive to do them justice here. But, the reason for the acquittals is clear. It’s about police training. It’s about the law. It’s about police contracts. Cops don’t go to jail for killing Black people in cold blood for this simple reason: It is not illegal for cops to kill Black people in cold blood. Police are
trained not to aim for limbs when they discharge their weapons. Say what will, but that means that our boys and girls in blue are trained to shoot to kill. The
legal standard for police to discharge their weapons leaves it vastly up to the officer’s discretion—complete with his or her cultural and racial bias—to determine whether or not a person deserves to be shot. An officer can shoot someone “to protect the officer or others from what is reasonably believed to be a threat of death or serious bodily harm; and to prevent the escape of a fleeing violent felon who the officer has probable cause to believe will pose a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.” That legal gobbledygook basically means “for just about any reason you see fit.” And as if this were not enough legal protection, the vast majority of police contracts in this country
present significant barriers to the prosecution of police officers.
As a nation, we have to fix this. And we have to fix it now. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” And if the nation denies Black people this justice by deferring the "Fixing" to a distant future, how can we but resort to another approach. After all, the inability of the nation to "Fix the police" does not relieve the Christian (especially the Black Christian) from his Biblical duty to free the oppressed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see even good men resolve to
Fight police. We’ve seen it before in American history. The “
Black Panther Party for Self-Defense” organized for this very purpose: to defend the Black community against police brutality. As a pastor, I would not encourage our congregation toward violence. But, I could not discourage the righteous desire to defend the powerless and the oppressed. I would advance the cause of peace. But, I would also issue a prophetic warning to our congregants and to the nation at large: Whenever the state refuses to yield justice in the face of peaceful protest, it creates the environment for violent resistance. We don’t want to see this. But, ultimately justice and timely course correction is the best way to avoid it. Because what the community cannot do is continue to
Fear the police.
The Bible reserves judgment for cowards. Black Christians shrink from their moral responsibility if we sit idly by and do nothing as the warm blood of our most vulnerable cries out from the ground. And while we are at it, F— the school system. F—the racist economy. F— every unjust system in our country. For thine oh Lord is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
An original version of this post appeared on Chicago Unheard as F- the Police.
Chris Butler is first a husband and a dad. He has been involved across the spectrum of public engagement activities and has worked with a number of diverse constituencies in urban and suburban communities. He has also been involved in several political campaigns including his service as a youth and young adult coordinator for Barack Obama’s primary bid for U.S. Senate.