This week, a Staten Island grand jury voted not to indict New York City Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who used an illegal chokehold to restrain Eric Garner and inadvertently killed him. Pantaleo was white; Garner was black.
This ruling comes on the heels of the Ferguson ruling last month, when the grand jury voted not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown in a confused altercation. Wilson was white; Brown was black.
These are tragic deaths that call for mourning. These are also polarizing deaths that call for charitable listening and thoughtful response from both sides of the racial divide.
A Black Perspective
It was only 59 years ago this week that Rosa Parks refused to obey the bus driver’s order to give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger. The specter of systemic racism stills hangs over our nation, even though much of it is now perpetuated in our subconscious. Those on the receiving end of injustice are naturally more keenly aware of it.
This is why, in the poll preceding the Ferguson decision, 59% of blacks said that Officer Wilson should be charged with murder, while only 15% of whites concurred. Similarly, only 13% of blacks thought that Officer Wilson acted in self-defense, while 43% of whites thought so.
A White Perspective
Our justice system, however, is not entirely broken. In January, a grand jury indicted Officer Randall Kerrick on voluntary manslaughter charges for fatally shooting Jonathan Ferrell. Kerrick was white; Ferrell was black.
Nor are all white police officers out there to lock up or kill black people. Most of them are risking their lives to serve the public good, and some are oblivious to their subconscious racial profiling. In many cases, they are protecting black people from black violence, since 93% of black homicide victims are murdered by blacks.
The mutual mistrust between blacks and law enforcement must be healed. (1) Police officers must be made aware of their racial biases and trained to de-escalate confrontations in order to curtail the use of deadly force. (2) Social ills such as poverty and fatherless must be ameliorated to reduce black criminality.
The Human Heart
But we would be deluded to think that we can change our society by merely changing institutions. Undoubtedly, our human condition is a broken one that must be fixed, but we must not ignore the human nature that drives it. Changing the system is an expedient solution, but changing the human heart is more exigent. Systemic reforms must be driven by those whose hearts have been reformed by Jesus Christ.
Enlightened principles will not fix our world. A system of redemption is not enough. We need a Redeemer who can change the human heart, and His name is Jesus Christ. We must repent of our selfish agendas and submit to Him. Then, God will give us a new heart and fill us with the Holy Spirit. And “beholding the glory of the Lord, [we will be] transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).