Please Don’t Ask Me to Mourn Them

For my Introduction to Pastoral Theology class I was asked to write a reflection on a news article and interfaith memorial service for the five police officers who were killed in a shootout during a Black Lives Matter protest (the protesters had nothing to do with the shooting). I felt like my reflection was worth sharing. It’s important to note that I wrote this addressing a bunch of Christians so my language is tailored to them.

This is obviously going to be a sensitive subject so I ask people to read my words carefully so as to not misunderstand.

I’ve have been the victim of police misconduct and witnessed worse. I’ve had cops threaten and harass me. I’ve had cops break into my home without a warrant and drag a mentally ill person out in handcuffs despite the fact that the person in question had no idea what was happening and was terrified. These are just my personal experiences to say nothing of the countless numbers of people who have lost their lives because of police brutality. The most heartbreaking for me about this is that my aunt and, last I heard, my cousin are both law enforcement officers. Nothing I say here is just political theory, it’s personal and visceral.

I believe that law enforcement is systemically and irredeemably corrupt. They do not keep us safe, they keep us in line. They are not our protectors, they are the enforcers (in the gang context of the word) of the wealthy. The only good cop is a cop who resigns and speaks out against them. Were it the case that a few bad apples spoil the bunch, that the majority of the cops are good people who just want to uphold the law then why is there a code of silence prohibiting cops from speaking out against each others? Why did they set up and try to kill Serpico? Furthermore, is it morally sound to uphold laws even if you know they are not just? Sure, they’ve got to make a living just like the rest of us, but if one upholds laws that wrong for a paycheck that means they are essentially choosing money over the wellbeing of society and the human race.

You cannot serve on the force and be a good person. I don’t remember if it was for this class or for Living Into Our Commitments, but I read about some Buddhists who were struggling to save a forest against a corporation. One day they got really creative and ordained the tree, wrapping it in the same religious garb as them. The result was that the loggers couldn’t bring themselves to cut down the tree. While not within the scope of pastoral care, I believe it is the duty of every minister to speak the truth and do everything in their power to compel law enforcement officers to “repent and make restitution” as it were. We need to get creative like the Buddhists. Refuse the sacraments to cops, give sermons about the Beatitudes and interpret it for modern contexts, but above all do everything in your power to make it clear that a change must be made.

But I cannot, will not mourn the death of people complicit in a system that brutalizes people of color and the poor. For me, it is tantamount to asking me to mourn the death of my abuser’s friends who all knew about the abuse and didn’t do anything about it. It’s cruel and vile.