Walking with hands in pockets…

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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)

Thinking that will change our reality…

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“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” (Anaïs Nin)

What we expect shapes our outcomes.  What we expect shapes our outcomes because it changes how we react and respond to people and can tilt our interactions in a positive or negative direction.

What we think about ourselves shapes our outcomes.  What we think about ourselves influences how we act in a particular circumstance and how we act influences what others think about us.  We can build feedback loops both positive or negative depending on the presumptions we bring along with us.

If I think of someone as being an angel I will treat them like an angel.  If I think of myself as an angel I may act like an angel and if I act like an angel people may eventually treat me like one.  However, if I see someone as a threat, and if I treat them as I perceive them to be, they may become hostile towards me.

There is some truth to the idea of self-fulfilling prophecy.  We do to an extent become what we expect to be and push others towards outcomes that reinforce our presumptions and prejudices about them.  Be careful not to stack the deck against a person, put them in a corner or pigeonhole them and instead hold off before judging them as long as can be done safely.

If we expect black men to be thugs.  If we put special emphasis on violence and negative statistics related to black men, it could prejudice us towards the many black men who are guilty of nothing.  But worse than that is to defend black men who do engage in thuggish behavior, which does not serve justice one iota and actually reinforces the stereotype.  Instead, if we expect black men to be role models, then we should emphasize those who are role models and not excuse those who have already excused themselves from living responsible lives.

If we think of police officers as thugs.  If we put special emphasis on anecdotes that fit a particular angle and judge individual situations by history rather than actual evidence, we are no longer on the side of objectivity or actual justice.  Certainly police should be held accountable. Police do make mistakes and there are enough cases of authorities engaging in thuggish behavior to make a case for oversight.  But it is not helpful to dwell on only the negative examples, each situation should be judged on its own merits alone and we should avoid getting caught up in the frenzy of those who have presumed to know without actually knowing.

I am not a police officer nor am I a black male.  But I am fully human, I have been in positions of authority and also in circumstances where my differences were used as a basis to judge me.  So I have some capacity for understanding both even though I could never fully understand the pressures either of them face.  We all have times where we need to interpret without fully knowing what we are up against.  How we interpret another person might say as much about us as it does them.  We need to be introspective over judgmental.

The killing of Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson was tragic.  But it is made even more tragic if we use one decision made in haste as an excuse for more deliberate and less rational behavior.  Rioting and senseless destruction is awful, yet what is more awful is that it reinforces the same negative impression that it supposedly is protesting.  Images of black men acting violently, extrajudicial death threats and other irrationality only hurt the cause of justice.

Truly, if we want change we must first start with changing ourselves.  The presumptions we bring in to our evaluation of a circumstance influence how we respond to the circumstances we encounter and could dramatically shape our outcomes.  I have had many interactions where I choose to believe the better of the other person and was eventually rewarded.  First impression goes a long way.  If I am respectful to a person who was seemingly rude or unfair towards me, that generally works better for creating desirable outcomes than my getting confrontational or making accusations.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:21)

We must put responsibility on ourselves for our own attitudes and actions first.  Jesus taught to to take care of our own flawed vision before attempting to fix others.  Jesus said to treat others as we wish to be treated rather than demand an eye for an eye and to endure persecution.  He taught to honor and respect authorities that fell well outside of our own standards.  That is my goal.  My goal is to be more like Jesus and transcend cycles of violence rather than participate in them.

I expect to find goodness by being good.  I want to think well of myself and well of others rather than build on the negatives.  I wish to be full of wisdom, free with my love and slow to judge.  I believe the world is a better place when I cease with my own excuses and be the better man.

That’s my perspective…