Thabiti Anyabwile has been pretty outspoken about his disgust with the American police system. Recently he posted an article over at the Gospel Coalition titled A Call to Evangelical Pastors: Let’s Do Our Part to End Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration. I will mostly be addressing that article.
In the comments section of that article, I posted some statistics about police brutality. Since he had no means to argue with these facts, he simply deleted the comments altogether and said that we were “having different conversations.” OK, I was sure we were both talking about police brutality, but OK.
Here are the stats I posted. They were gathered from the Bureau of Justice. In a given year, around 600,000 officers will have contact with around 53 million citizens. Of all of those millions of encounters, there are around 26,000 complaints of brutality. Of those 26,000 complaints, only about 8% were found to have any merit or evidence (believe it or not, people often make false allegations against cops because they don’t like going to jail). So out of 53 million encounters, there were around 2000 credible complaints. That’s 0.0039% of all police-citizen contacts resulting in a credible brutality complaint. If you have to move 3 decimal places to the right before you register a number other than zero, how can you claim that police brutality is an epidemic?
If you want to talk about only people that are killed by police, let’s look at some stats on that (from the FBI’s database). In 2012, about 12 million people were arrested nationwide. Of those 12 million arrests, 410 resulted in the police killing the arrestee. Even if all 410 were completely unjustified murders, that would be 0.003% of all arrests resulting in a murder. But those 410 deaths were justifiable homicide. There aren’t any stats collected on unjustified killings, probably because you’d have to move a dozen or so decimal places to the right before you reached a number other than zero. Or to look at it another way, police successfully made 99.997% of their arrests without having to kill the arrestee. But we’re supposed to believe that it’s the wild west out there, with cops just shooting anyone that moves, especially if they’re black? The facts show otherwise no matter what the mainstream media’s rhetoric says.
I’m not sure if this Laquan McDonald shooting was justified or not. I’m not sure if there was a cover up or not. But even if something criminal did happen in that case on the part of the officers, this kind of thing is still an extremely rare event. You’d never know it because the mainstream media trips all over themselves to report these things when they happen. They don’t bother to report the other 11,999,590 arrests that go down without bloodshed because that doesn’t get ratings.
Furthermore, I wonder if Thabiti is aware of Ezekiel 18:20 which says, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”
Ok, so let’s say for the sake of argument that every one of these controversial cases (Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, etc) was outright brutality by the cops involved. Should we then hold every officer in America accountable for those officers’ actions? Especially in light of Ezekiel 18:20? Isn’t it the height of hypocrisy to hold an entire group of people accountable for the actions of a few, while simultaneously complaining that cops (and other whites) judge the entire black race based on the actions of a few?
Imagine if people wrote Christianity off every time the mainstream media reported a pastor caught in some sexual or financial scandal! Imagine if they judged you, Thabiti, as being guilty of that pastors sins, and then wrote of “systemic” problems within Christianity because one pastor out of hundreds of thousands was caught in some scandal? Think that might feel a little unfair? Now imagine the most widely known Christian pastors were the ones actually judging you guilty of another pastor’s sins. Think you might feel a bit betrayed by your brothers in Christ? Yeah, Christian cops feel that way all the time these days. I can count on one hand the number of widely known Christians that have publicly backed cops over the last year (Voddie Baucham, Franklin Graham and Steve Camp are actually the only ones that come to mind). The number of them that have bashed our cops are too numerous to count however.
I’ve read enough from Thabiti to know that he’ll say there’s still a problem of “systemic” injustice. I hear this term a lot, but I’ve still yet to see anyone really define specifically what it is.
There are no laws on the books that discriminate by race. Possession of powder cocaine is the same offense in the penal code for blacks as it is whites. Possession of crack is the same offense for both races as well. Want to argue that harsher sentences were enacted for crack because everyone knows that’s the “poor man’s drug?” Fine. (The harsher crack laws were passed in the 70’s by the way, much has changed since then, including the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.) Want to advocate for making the sentencing for those two drugs exactly equal? Fine. That still has nothing to do with police officers. They don’t write law and they don’t decide punishment. If there’s an officer out there cutting white people loose when they possess drugs but arresting black people for possessing the same drug, by all means, drop the hammer on him. If there’s a judge handing out drastically harsher sentences for the same offense to people with the same criminal history in the same circumstances, yes, that judge should be held accountable. That doesn’t mean ALL judges should be held accountable. It doesn’t mean there’s an inherent problem within the system itself. The system itself is designed to be fair, if there are rogue actors within the system that are enforcing it unfairly, hold that actor accountable, not everyone in the “system.”
It’s extremely discouraging for Christian cops to be treated as perpetrators of injustice merely because they wear a badge. It’s exponentially more discouraging when the people most often painting them in this light are widely known pastors. More than that, though, I am concerned for fellow officers who aren’t believers. Where is the outreach to them? I’ve yet to see an article from anyone that specifically mentions unbelieving cops as being in need of the gospel. Want to talk about a marginalized people group? There are 2 cops for every 1,000 American citizens. Much less than 2 per 1000 are believers I would imagine. Pretty easy for them to get lost in the fray. Even easier for those unbelieving officers to write Christianity off should they stumble upon The Gospel Coalition or Christianity Today and see a multitude of contributors throwing them right under the bus.
I actually tend to agree with most of Thabiti’s 7 affirmations and denials. Thabiti then made 6 things he’s committed to doing, and they are this…
- Finding ways to foster meaningful discussions that build neighborhoods.
- Investigating claims of injustice so that I might be educated and prepared for sound action.
- Demonstrating against injustice.
- Advocating for public accountability
- Bringing moral pressure to bear on justice issues–especially the end of police brutality, misconduct and the war on drugs.
- Brokering solutions and strategies for resolving pressing injustices.
On #1, I’m not really sure what he means by “discussions that build neighborhoods”, that sounds like one of those well-meaning phrases that has no actual tangible meaning. But as far as fostering meaningful discussion, Thabiti has blocked me on Twitter and deleted my comments on his TGC articles. It seems he’s only interested in fostering discussions with those who already agree with his premise that police are the big problem in society.
On #2, he says he commits to investigating claims of injustice. But which injustice? All injustice? Including when officers like Deputy Goforth are executed while pumping gas for no other reason than the uniform he wears? Is that an example of an injustice that Thabiti commits to investigating? Somehow I think what he meant to say was “I commit to joining in on witch hunts every time a controversial story hits the news involving a white cop killing a black person.” Perhaps I’m wrong, I’d love to be proven wrong actually, but if Thabiti’s stance towards Ferguson-where he discarded all the facts and still sided with the criminal because of his skin color-is any indication of how he’s going to be “investigating injustice” then I have a feeling I won’t be proven wrong at all.
On #3, Thabiti commits to demonstrating against injustice. Does this mean he will be marching with the Blue Lives Matter crowd when cops are killed for no reason? Or will it be the terrorist organization known as Black Lives Matter that he’s demonstrating with? We shall see, but I have a feeling I know what he means.
On #4, Thabiti commits to advocating for public accountability. Public accountability for whom? Officers? Criminals? Both officers and criminals? Again, if Ferguson is any indication, I think we know the answer. There was no talk of Michael Brown’s accountability for committing a strong arm robbery and then punching an officer in the face and trying to take his gun away from him. Where’s the public accountability for that? Didn’t see any demands for accountability from Thabiti, only an insistence that Officer Wilson was guilty of murder despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, followed by a perpetuation of the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” myth that was soundly debunked by forensic evidence.
On #5, Thabiti commits to bringing moral pressure to bear on justice issues. Only if they involve dropping the hammer on cops though. If a criminal kills a cop, whatever. If a criminal kills another criminal, meh.
On #6, he commits to brokering solutions and strategies for resolving pressing injustices. I have no idea really what that means or entails, other than “de-militarizing” the police (a myth in and of itself).
Of all the talk about demanding justice, it seems his idea of justice is dropping a heavy hammer on cops before all the facts are in. Of all the talk of showing grace and mercy, it seems he only wants grace and mercy for black criminals, there’s none to be given to officers. And in all of the talk period, I see very little about the concern of the souls of either cops or criminals. Thabiti committed to doing six things. Six practical things he plans to do to battle police brutality and misconduct. None of them included preaching the gospel to officers (or black people for that matter). None of them included showing them love, mercy or grace. None of them included calling bad officers to repentance and saving faith.
This is why people say “stick to preaching the gospel.” God’s Word is sufficient and equips man for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). God’s Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11). Sure, you can go and march with the Black Lives Matter protesters and interrupt white people’s brunches and join in on the witch hunts when a cop has to shoot someone. You can gain some cheap applause while doing so. You can get some pats on the back. You can get some retweets and likes and shares. And you’ll also alienate the very people you have seem to take issue with. The very people who, in your eyes, apparently need the gospel the most, are the very people you’re not interested in sharing it with. They deserve better. The Great Commission demands it.