I recently attended a community forum held at a Mega African American Church in the downtown area of Phoenix. The meeting was held to give the community an opportunity to express themselves, ask questions and for some to share their outrage over a recent police incident dealing with a family who had allegedly shoplifted from a Dollar Store. The gentleman who was the moderator began his dialogue sharing about how he had recently given the ‘Talk’ to his son about the importance of showing respect to Police and those in authority and the possibility that your race could possibly equal you being abused or shot.
I was taken back by the extreme emotions that were expressed over the past history of police involved incidents where someone was shot, killed or left paralyzed. I live in a world where an individual’s views of race and our society extremely vary. I understand how easy it is for someone who has never been around any type of hate crime to not understand the fear too many have of the police or those in authority. The response of some was if you’re going to live on the edge by breaking the law then expect a response from the authorities. I’ll be the first to say that two wrongs never are right! Never respond to evil with evil otherwise you will end up fueling the present cycle of violence.
I left this meeting rather sadden, frustrated and confused about how the Police Chief and Mayor of Phoenix are going to face the real conflict in our city. I totally agree that getting body cams for all the officers would be a step in the right direction. The clear mistrust and animosity between the diverse group of almost a 1,000 at this church showed the clear need for the power of forgiveness and the needed journey of reconciliation to happen soon.
I was so fortunate to attend a documentary the following evening that gave clear insight into the life of the Emanuel AME Church where nine church members were murdered. The lives of the nine families were forever changed after a young racist man walked into a prayer meeting, being welcomed and then proceeded to shoot all within his reach. Steph Curry, the superstar NBA player, gave the introduction to this movie and shared his testimony about the power of God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace in his life.
Clearly, not everyone believes in God, nor any need for forgiveness for murders or rapists. It’s rather naive to think I’m going to persuade someone whose spouse, son or daughter was murdered to forgive the killer. Yet, as I watched this documentary, I was brought to tears for most of the hour plus. It was rather incredible to hear the stories of the families of all those who had been murdered. Yes, hate is very powerful in this context, but what is even more powerful is that of agape love and forgiveness.
I was impressed to hear the judge of the case give each family an opportunity to speak to the individual responsible for the murder of their family members. The overwhelmingly powerful message was still one of the WHY would you do this, yet, the hope and prayer was that this individual would be touched, transformed and moved by their divine gift of forgiveness. As the documentary closed with pictures of all those whose lives had been taken the message was one that forgiveness is the only path to pursue with God’s help. Otherwise, you would be consumed with hatred and an ongoing desire for revenge.
A few days later I see an article both in a local and national publication which highlighted that racism is alive even in Scottsdale, Arizona. A Doctor who works at the Mayo Clinic was targeted by neighbors in a high-end gated community with a picture with a clear racist message, Negroes go back to Africa. (This picture was attached to their door where their nanny and young kids saw it.) This incredible Doctor and her husband are fostering two young African American kids. How is this possible in my larger community? The reality is that racism is a societal ill that must be addressed on all sides.
The family that was attacked responded with a message of let’s not tolerant this type of behavior and instead gave a clear message of hope, forgiveness and change is possible for all.
How do we as individuals face the bias, racism and mistrust around us and within us? It’s time for everyone to be better at listening, before jumping to conclusions, expand your circle of friends and ask God for help to experience forgiveness ourselves and then to live it out!