This marks the at least temporary abandoning of our apolitical stance at Saving the Game. The world has reached a point where striving to be completely apolitical and ambiguous about our views has hampered our ability to speak as Christians.
If you read Tuesday’s blog post, I mentioned that I had some thoughts but the blog here for the podcast wasn’t the place for them. After conferring with my co-hosts and also a bit with our mod team, I have reassessed that. I also have a few experiences and bits of knowledge that I’m hoping can be helpful.
Also, and perhaps more importantly, I’ve had a day to think, and I also got a reasonable amount of sleep last night. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s all tied up together here, so this might be a little unstructured, but bear with me. Also: you may disagree with me. That’s okay.
Black Lives Matter
One of the first things I want to acknowledge and talk about a little bit is the Black Lives Matter movement. I am going to preface this by saying that I am not an expert here, but I know a lot of people immediately bristle back with “all lives matter!” whenever that phrase is uttered. So let’s talk about implied prefixes and suffixes. A lot of people who look like me (middle-aged, bearded white guys) read the name of that movement with an implied “only” at the beginning. That’s not how to look at it, because it’s supposed to have an implied “, too” at the end.
Black Lives Matter, too.
Also, when you say that all lives matter, you are correct – they do. We are all the children of God, and bear His image. But the society we live in values some of those lives more than others. I am a white, cissexual, heterosexual, Protestant man in his forties. I am the “default” for the US, especially if our media is to be believed. And to most people, that means that my ability to matter is self-evident. I’m the “norm” so I must be a productive member of society.
I mean, sorta? I work as a bench tech at a small company that sells used IT gear. I have a podcast with about 200 faithful listeners (thank you, all of you). I’m not exactly changing the whole world with my life, here. I’m not particularly exceptional. I don’t even have a bachelor’s degree (though I do have 2 associate’s degrees and one of them will become important later in this post). I could die, and the world as a whole would not be negatively impacted. My friends and my loved ones would be sad, of course, but I am not Atlas holding the heavens up, here. And yet, to most people who see me, my life has inherent worth. I am a person.
Something else for the other white Christians reading this to remember: black people are, demographically speaking, more Christian than we are. Don’t believe me? I have data! Take a look at the Pew Research Center data for blacks and whites. The TL;DR of this really interesting and well-laid-out data is that any given black person is 79% likely to be your brother or sister in Christ. Any given white person? The percentage drops by a full 9 percentage points. (Also, I apologize if you succumb to the “wikipedia effect” and wind up trapped at the Pew Research Center’s website for a while.)
Now, it’s worth mentioning that this is kind of a side point in many ways – religiosity and skin tone are not predictors of worth in the eyes of God. John 3:16 reads that God so loved the world after all, not just the church. Whether they matter to us or not, God matters to blacks, and:
Black Lives Matter to God.
Finally, on a personal note, I have way better averages interacting with blacks than whites professionally, especially blue-collar ones. There was a particular truck driver that I worked with for quite a while at Barnes & Noble. I lost touch with him when he changed jobs, so I don’t have permission from him to use his name, so I’ll just call him John. John was a hardworking, friendly, professional, and absolutely hilarious guy. I genuinely enjoyed having him be one of the first people I saw throughout my workday. There were several other black guys who drove freight to my store at various times too, and I noticed early on that the average of these guys, personality-wise, was way better than any other demographic. They were, to put it lightly, great. I think about those guys, especially the young ones, a lot these days. I hope they’re okay. One of my sisters is dating a black guy. Wonderful human being. I hope she marries him, frankly. He’s a really good guy. But again, even if all of these folks had been jerks to me, they would have exactly the same amount of value to God as I do. But they weren’t jerks, and so:
Black Lives Matter to me.
I live on the far edge of nowhere. My platform is tiny. But I can add my keyboard to this, at least. It is important to say that Black Lives Matter, and believe it, because so much of our society provides evidence that they do not. Black communities are often poor. Black men are more likely, per capita, to be incarcerated or killed by police than white men are. These people matter to God. They should matter to us.
And if you have any kind of objection to what I’ve said so far here, I’d invite you to read Exodus 3:9, Exodus 23:6-7, Leviticus 25:35, Deuteronomy 15:11, 1 Samuel 2:8, Psalm 9:9, Psalm 12:5, Psalm 34:18, Psalm 72:4, Psalm 72:14, Psalm 82:3, Psalm 91:1-16, Psalm 103:6, Psalm 119:134, Proverbs 14:31, Proverbs 17:5, Proverbs 22:16, Proverbs 22:22-23, Proverbs 28:6, Proverbs 31:8-9, Ecclesiastes 7:7, Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 10:1-3, Isaiah 41:17, Isaiah 54:14, Jeremiah 22:13, Ezekiel 16:49-50, Ezekiel 22:29, Amos 4:1, Amos 5: 10-12, Amos 5:24, Zechariah 7:9-10, Malachai 3:5, Matthew 5: 1-11, Matthew 25:31-46, Galatians 3:28, the entirety of the book of Lamentations, the entirety of the book of James, and all of the Gospel according to Luke for starters and see if that doesn’t change your mind. For starters. In other words, the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms, the Proverbs, the Gospels, Paul’s letters, and the rest of the New Testament are in full, consistent, ubiquitous agreement that we need to care about the oppressed, poor, and suffering. That is a significant portion of Black America today.
Okay, let’s pivot to something I have a little more firsthand experience with: law enforcement. I was never in the profession, but I did go to school for it. I’m going to start off by acknowledging that law enforcement is an incredibly stressful job. (CW: gruesome description. If you’re bothered by descriptions of gore, go ahead and skip down two paragraphs to the one that starts with “Cops see…”) At the opening of the first day of the first criminal justice class you have to take in order to progress into the rest of the program, the instructor, a very honest and forthright local police chief, put a picture of an unsuccessful shotgun suicide up on the overhead projector and left it there. The man in the photo had blown his entire lower jaw and part of his nose off. His tongue was hanging out of his ruined face like a grotesque necktie. The instructor looked straight at us and said “If this is too much for you, pack your books up, head down to admissions, and get your tuition for this class refunded.”
It was said without judgment, and he was right to say so. Over the next couple of years, I would see evidence photos from a horrific child sexual abuse case, a man who had been in a car that had been on fire for half an hour and was somehow still alive, an electrical burn that had arced through a victim’s body and blown a hole the size of my hand out the other side, and I would stand there and watch the autopsy of a guy who had only been 7 years my senior when he died of a drug overdose. He looked like he could have been my older brother. I remember for that one that I was doing okay right up until the coroner started sawing into his brain pan, at which point my guts lurched a little extra hard and I told the detective I was talking about the case with that I needed air now and she directed me outside.
Cops see a lot of horrific stuff. It’s not as dangerous of a profession as some folks might have you believe (at least not everywhere), but it is incredibly stressful. You spend your life seeing people at their worst, and you will watch a number of people die even if you work in a tiny, peaceful town and never draw your weapon. The stress, on average, takes ten years off your life expectancy. The rates of alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, and divorce are all significantly higher among the members of the law enforcement profession than they are among the public as a whole. And as you can imagine, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and moral injury are also pretty rampant. Remember those last couple, I’m coming back to them.
And they tell you this, with brutal honesty, while you’re enrolled in a criminal justice program at a community college. Or at least, they did in northern Illinois back in the 2000s.
As part of the same internship that had me stand in on an autopsy, I also did a bunch of ride-alongs with county sheriff’s deputies. For the most part, on the evening shift especially, I found them to be pretty great. And I was also impressed with how honest they were with me. One was a former undercover guy who had been burned by department politics, waiting to retire, but unable to advance. Another one was really frank with me that he wished he’d stayed in the Army. A third was one of the SWAT guys (out here, that’s a bunch of extra training and a part-time job, rather than a full-time gig like in a big city). Another one was an ex-librarian with a lead foot. There were some I was less impressed with, including several bitter, sarcastic souls on the day shift that were pretty miserable to be around. A cross-section of humanity.
I also spent a fair amount of time with my fellow criminal justice students, and one of my oldest friends was a community service officer for the town we both grew up in. I saw a lot of idealism, especially among the evening shift officers and my fellow students. It wasn’t an outlook of wanting to dominate or be a bully; serve and protect was what it was all about. There was a lot of wanting to be heroes, or failing that, at least helpers and protectors of our fellow citizens. Songs like Nickelback’s “Never Again” and the Toby Keith/Willie Nelson song “Beer for my Horses” were popular – there was a strong glamorized ideal of helping preserve society and add value to it, making sure you got the bad guys and helped the good people. We wanted to be “sheepdogs” as Lt. Col. Dave Grossman puts it.
That idealism tends to run hard into the realities of the job. Because for one thing, reality is not that black-and-white of a place. Part of the problem we have with excessive force these days is, I am convinced, wholly down to a combination of two things: first, the DOD’s 1033 program and “warrior cop” ethos that goes with it, and second the disillusionment and PTSD that comes with the job. And as I have seen in a friend with PTSD and this excellent essay by Myke Cole, PTSD is often a bit different than what we think it is. That combination of factors is a very easy straight line to “when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” thinking.
There’s also the “thin blue line” mentality, where cops protect and cover for one another. It’s not hard to see how you get there, either. It’s a uniquely stressful job, and the people who understand you best are the other people who have done it. In more dangerous areas (such as large cities) you may also owe each other your lives. It’s not hard to see how a very insular community and contempt for civilians develops out of that if it’s left unchecked. Throw a little moral injury in there, and it’s not hard to see how the human psyche can go to some of the places law enforcement culture goes to. Where does that moral injury enter into it? Glad you asked.
Because that leads me to “ACAB.” (CW: language.)
You’ve probably seen that acronym on social media, especially over the last couple of days. For those who don’t know, ACAB is an acronym for “All Cops Are Bastards.”
On the surface, that seems to imply a lot, right? The implication there seems to be that anyone who wants the job in the first place is a vicious bully, someone who wants power only to hurt people with. That doesn’t square with my personal experience. As I’ve mentioned on the podcast, I have known some really wonderful people who were employed as cops. They took their oath incredibly seriously. They were out there to help. I certainly wasn’t looking to bully or hurt people when I was in that program.
And then my friend Stan gave me the necessary means to connect the dots.
I should back up briefly. Stan is a friend of mine from the Fear the Boot community. He is probably further to the left than anyone else I consider a friend. He is an actual Marxist and will proudly tell you so himself. How that friendship happened is a testament partially to the Booter community and partially to Stan’s personal character. We may have some significant ideological differences, but over a period of roughly a decade, I have come to trust him as a person. He is a very good guy. If he tells me something, I may not always believe it, but at this point, I always believe he believes it. He has earned that. That combination of far-left politics and reliable personal character mean that I can get perspective from him I often don’t get anywhere else.
Before I get to what Stan said, I should also take a moment to acknowledge that when some people say ACAB, they do mean what I assumed. Painters with broad brushes come in all shapes, sizes, and political leanings.
So what did Stan say? This: “ACAB is a comment on the institution, which puts individual officers, however good they are, to the task of overpolicing black neighborhoods, extorting citizens as a source of revenue, sending people to prison for pot, etc. The job of the cop (as it currently stands) is to be a bastard.”
That … tracks. Go back to what I described about criminal justice students. What kind of an effect do you think ticket quotas or doing asset forfeiture or sending people into a system that’s never going to truly take its hooks out of them has the first few times for a young, idealistic rookie cop? This is where the moral injury comes in.
To be sure, there are some genuinely bad people that go into law enforcement. In particular, the feds have been worried about vicious white supremacist groups such as the KKK infiltrating law enforcement since at least 2006. But I think – I know for the area I live in – that you also have a lot of disillusioned idealists.
Which leads us to a world that would be better both for the cops and the protesters.
Back to the Beginning
One of the criticisms that gets lobbed at the law enforcement profession here in the United States is that it has its roots in slave-catchers. That’s not untrue, especially in the South. But it’s not as true for the North, and the modern incarnation of the profession owes its existence to something significantly more noble: the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829.
The Metropolitan Police Act created a professional police force in the city of London. And astonishingly, even almost 200 years on, it’s really hard to find fault with it. Sir Robert Peel and his people are an excellent real-life example of Lawful Good, should you want one. The reason I give Peel and his people that kind of credit is that they figured out, at the beginning, what law enforcement should look like. Here are the nine principles they came up with:
- To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
- To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
- To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
- To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
- To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
- To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
- To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
- To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary, of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
- To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.
I’m tempted to go through and do a point-by-point analysis of these, laying out why I think they’re good and addressing the one small problem I have with Principle 5, but if you’re still reading at this point, I should probably let you go do something else soon, so I will leave it at this: if we can get back to these, even with my objection in place, it will be better for everyone involved, including the police themselves.
One of the ways back to this kind of policing is to get the cops out of their squad cars and into the communities – kind of the British “bobby” model. (By the way, that nickname is an affectionate nod to Robert Peel.) That would do two things at once: it would humanize communities to their police, and it would also humanize police to their communities.
That alone isn’t a panacea, of course. There isn’t one. Lots needs to be done in the US, and yes, for the record, the looting and arson are wrong, though there’s a surprisingly small amount of that that’s attributable to the actual protesters … but that’s a whole other post at least as long as this one.
In the meantime, remember that we as Christians are supposed to love everyone. Jesus hung out with Pharisees and tax collectors. He cast the demons out of a gentile demoniac in the Gerasenes and he healed the daughter of a Roman centurion. His own apostles included a Zealot and a Roman tax collector. We should strive to do likewise.