This past Sunday, a 20 year-old man, Daunte Wright, was shot and killed during a traffic stop confrontation with police in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can find more details about the event here.
For all who want to argue that Daunte Wright and others should simply comply, imagine this:
You are pulled over and immediately treated as a dangerous suspect. Whether or not you have a criminal history, this is already unnerving. If you struggle with anxiety of any sort, this will definitely cause a panicked reaction.
Now, imagine it isn't fully explained why you’re being treated this way, but you’re simply expected to accept being treated like a criminal. Even worse, imagine you have a previous legal issue that you want to handle, but the justice system moves at a snail’s pace and/or you’ve made the mistake - yes, a MISTAKE - of waiting to address the situation. Your anxiety is even higher because you’re afraid that you’ll be put into jail and you’re worried about the impact it will have on your family and your life.
Should you have addressed it? Of course.
Will you now have to face the consequences of the mistake? Yes.
An unnerving and panic-inducing situation in every way.
Now, imagine you are already panicking, worried about all of these things while being treated as a criminal, which automatically causes you to be viewed as less of a human by almost everyone (unless a person happens to be moved to remember that Jesus was crucified alongside a repentant criminal, for whom He promised paradise), and in the midst of this, your panic turns to a physical reaction. Your fight/flight response kicks in and you make a choice -- an incorrect choice -- to try and escape. Even if you were to succeed, you'd likely be caught later for your previous crime, which was not a murder or a violent crime in any manner. Further, you would now face additional charges for evading arrest, etc. You would deserve proper consequences for your actions, which would likely include time in prison, along with a criminal record that would ultimately make your future incredibly challenging. This probably never entered your mind, hence your desire to try and escape.
Of course, if you are not a person of color, this thought experiment is quite different, because the burden and challenges that come with being a person of color in this situation cause a different level of anxiety. Some might disagree with that assertion, but statistical data proves that incarceration rates occur at a significantly disproportionate rate for people of color. Philando Castile had been pulled over at least 49 times for minor traffic violations, most of which were dismissed, before being shot and killed by police in St. Paul, Minnesota. As a Latino American myself, studies show that I'm more likely to be killed by police than someone who’s white and less likely than a Black American. In fact, a recent Harvard study found that Black Americans are about three times as likely to be killed by police compared to white citizens. In some cities, they're five or six times as likely.
Now, knowing all this, and with the entire scenario composed in your mind, here is the question:
For the actions described above, is the best course of justice to be immediately -- without the due process of the justice system -- sentenced to death?
If you’ve answered no, then understand that is why there is so much anger, so much frustration, so much hurt and such a vocal, visceral response. People of color cannot keep dying because of the mistakes described above, especially as we have been treated unfairly far too many times for far too long in our country’s history. Please understand that the cries of "Black Lives Matter" have to do with a community who feels so deeply mistreated that supporting one another in every area of life is the only response because there cannot be “a house divided” in a battle against oppression and injustice. Whatever issues Black Americans might need to address within their internal community does not mean those outside the community should withhold support, love, or care as that would be yet another, unwarranted attack.
Do issues need to be addressed by every community distinguished by race or culture or religion that would create better for that community? Of course.
Does that have anything to do with the injustice described above and the cries of those suffering at said injustice? No.
That is why the cries are growing louder. That is why the anger and frustration continues to rise. That is why this cannot keep happening. That is why we must be bold in saying this, seeking to make impact in our own locales and, as believers in & followers of Jesus, in our own congregations and neighborhoods.
That is why we must lead the way.
Now, if you thought about the question above and you answered "yes" or you shrugged your shoulders and thought “sometimes that happens when you don’t comply,” then I have a follow up question: Shouldn’t the officer who shot Daunte Wright be immediately sentenced to death -- without trial or due process from the justice system -- because she used her gun instead of her taser?
After all, she made a mistake...
Rev. Matthew Ryan González is an LCMS pastor serving at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church and The Lutheran Church & School of Our Saviour, both in The Bronx, New York.
Read by Rev. Ben Squires of Bethel Lutheran Church in Gurnee, IL.