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For Tamir our hope isn't in the law, but it can help
Maybe it’s because I have very low expectations of our justice system and, particularly, how it prosecutes law enforcement officers, but I was not surprised when I heard that 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s killers were not indicted. Despite my lack of surprise, it was a distressing confirmation of the reality of who has the keys to the city in the United States. The law protects itself and its enforcements, not me. It doesn’t save me; it tries to control me and my actions for its enforcers and its creators’ end.
It is corrupt and it is clear. I am unsure that even if it weren’t, we’d feel much better. I question the passion behind protesting for an indictment because I am suspicious of the system itself. If his killers were imprisoned for life or publicly executed—does that bring Tamir back? Does it stop systemic racism? Does it cure the disease? Or does it just increase our reliance on a system of laws that sponsors and reinforces systemic racism and corruption?
I really think that the law in the United States, in its promise to save us, is idolatrous, and I think Jesus-followers, who are following in the example of our slain and resurrected King, need to reject its salvific promise and look to Christ. The Constitution won’t save us and its power is rooted in a threat of violence. The whole institution is totally un-Christian in my view. So it’s not surprising that it doesn’t give me much hope.
Because it’s rooted in violence, the hope that justice will be found in the law is lost for me. Violence, whether state-sanctioned or not, doesn’t solve an initially violent and hatred-filled act. Violence usually begets more violence, in my view, so even if my thirst for justice is quenched by an idolatrous state’s actions, I’m not sure how good that is for my soul.
So, while I empathize with my many friends who are disappointed in the lack of indictment of Tamir’s killers, I am not sure an indictment alone is satisfactory. I am disappointed too.
Just because it’s not satisfactory, though, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. Every cop who has killed someone should be held accountable for their actions—at the very least, they should lose their badges and guns (whether they should have guns to begin with is also a good question). Cops that kill are not serving or protecting, and many other cops agree with me about that.
The Guardian counts 1,127 people that have been killed by police this year, and all of the indictments in the world may not solve the deeply systemic problem. The law doesn’t offer a complete solution, but it sure helps.
For one, we should ask questions of the system instead of hoping that the system in place will bring about justice. We should ask questions about guns and police violence; consider police training, anger management, de-escalation. There are a lot of policy solutions that can help solve some of the big problems around law enforcement and subsequent indictments of cops.
But more importantly, I hope we respond. Here are a few ways.
Again, like we always say, nothing replaces this. We have to pray for prophetic change in the world—among cops and the justice system.
Provide an alternative. Our communities need to model new behavior and life. We need to show the world that another way is possible.
Cry out against the killings. When unjust killings happen—and I come from the camp that thinks all death is evil—we need to say something. The most ignored voices need to be amplified. They are our “least of these.”
Insist that the solution isn’t a matter of law. But beyond that, we need to talk about why a functional justice system could help. Like I said from the start of this post, we need to state that the law isn’t going to save us. But the fact is, it can make things better.
A revolution is coming and I think Christians and other people around the world are helping to bring it about. In the meantime, if the conscious people in government actually responded to the injustices with some honesty, we may have a (slightly) smaller problem on our hands.