I was trying to find a less controversial example to illustrate a point and have found it. The point is to get to the bottom of the conflict between citizens and police that can too often lead to unnecessary violent ends.
This case, captured in a video that has gone viral, involves a man being questioned by a police officer and is framed as a matter of race. The narrative being suggested is that this man was being harassed because of skin color and is presented as an example of overbearing policing at very least. However, as often is the case, there are two sides to this story and important contextual information the video does not show.
The bigger picture is that the business had been robbed several times. The man being questioned had apparently walked past the store multiple times, the store workers were nervous and called the police. The officer who arrived was simply responding to the call and doing his job to investigate the issue. The video was a police officer doing his job to serve and protect, nothing more or less.
I suppose one might allege the store employees were overbearing or racist for their suspicion. But, after being robbed several times, I think their vigilance is not unwarranted and they did the right thing by calling the police. It was the behavior of the man and not his race that was mentioned in the call. It was his behavior that the officer questioned.
I too, white and a noncriminal, was once questioned by a bank manager because I was parked across from the bank and had been sitting in my car on the phone. I could’ve got all in a huff over it and belittled those who were suspicious of me, but it did not bother me. I answered respectfully and that seemed to put him at ease. There was simply no reason to be combative or agitated about my being questioned.
In another incident, I was broke down along the highway, waiting for roadside service to arrive and a state policeman arrived. He approached and I met him halfway. We were talking as it snowed, having a conversation that seemed friendly enough, I went to put my hands in my pockets (because it was cold) and was startled when he abruptly ordered me, “don’t do that!” His hand simultaneously dropping towards his sidearm as he spoke the command.
In both cases I was quickly able to resolve the issue by being friendly and nonthreatening. I could’ve told the bank manager to “mind his own business” or accused him of being an idiot. I could also of resisted the officer’s warning and bristled in indignation that I was being treated like a criminal. Instead, I quickly identified with their concern, complied without showing an attitude of disrespect or agitation and the end results were pleasant for all involved.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)
So, going back to the viral video, the conversation is described as tense and there is definitely a tone of defiance. What bothers me is how this could quickly have escalated for no good reason other than the insecurity of a man who takes being questioned by someone as an insult. There was no reason for hostility towards nervous store employees or the officer and the incident had nothing to do with anything on a national stage.
What can we learn? First, there is often a bigger picture and additional information to be considered, so it is wise to wait for context before drawing conclusions about a particular incident. Second, use your freedom to choose to be respectful and responsible in all circumstances, there is no reason to ‘get an attitude’ with someone simply because they request something of you. Third, do not be easily offended, do not presume anything you don’t truly know and respect others if you wish to be respected.
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:13-15)
It is sad, but a little common sense compliance may have been the difference between life and death in some recent cases. How one responds to questions or requests and what they assume will potentially change their outcomes dramatically. We need to teach our young people to treat all people with respect and dignity whether they agree with them or not. Do not abuse your own rights if you don’t want to be abused.
I leave you with the words of Jesus…
“Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:30-31)