Edited to add: You should read this post from Sarah Bessey. Let’s say her name.
I can’t stop thinking about that DaJerria Becton, that poor girl in McKinney, the police man’s knees in her back. This has bothered me and unsettled my spirit more than Michael Brown or Freddie Gray or Trayvon Martin, though I’m not exactly sure why. No one has died, the cop’s on leave, his colleagues stepped in to stop him (if only sooner). Maybe it’s because this is fresh and new, but more likely, it’s because I see myself in her: I was once a teenage girl in a bikini, hanging out by the pool in my friends’ neighborhood. And isn’t that true? Don’t we most often empathize with those to whom we relate, with whom we have the most in common?
Maybe that’s why it’s easiest for white, middle-class, suburbanites like me to say, “Well, why did he run? Why was she there? Why not just cooperate and say, ‘Yes, sir?’” I simply don’t relate to poor black boys and girls in urban neighborhoods; I haven’t personally witnessed the cops in my own communities act in any way but courageously, selflessly, patiently. I don’t pretend to understand if any of these victims of police brutality were innocent or not, if the cops felt threatened, or if the situation might have deescalated somehow. But it’s not hard for me to understand a teenage girl at the pool, hoping the boys around will notice her in her bikini, relieved for the start of summer and looking forward to many more afternoons outside in the sun.
I am reading through the Psalms in my journaling Bible, just going in order page by page and chapter by chapter. This morning brought me to Psalm 72; a prayer of David, penned by his son Solomon. David is writing about the king who will soon replace him, but of course, he’s really writing about Jesus, our Prince of Peace.
May he defend the afflicted among the people
And save the children of the needy;
May he crush the oppressor… (vs. 4)
For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
The afflicted who have no one to help.
He will take pity on the weak and the needy
And save the needy from death.
He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
For precious is their blood in his sight. (vs. 12-14)
When I watched the McKinney video, I wondered, “Where is Jesus, here? Where would he be standing, who would be counted among his friends?” And I pictured Jesus and his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane that fateful night, as the Roman guard and the Pharisees arrived to arrest him. And it occurred to me: Jesus knows and feels the pain of knees in his back, of threats, and violence directed at his friends. When I read Scripture, it is so clear that Jesus always falls on the side of the victim. He is always by her side, feeling her pain, and assuring her that one day, in his Kingdom, things will not be this way. And friends, it’s our job to be the kingdom now and usher it in. Do we mourn with this little girl, and with her parents, and with her friends? Do we mourn with the police officers who had first arrived, who spoke calmly, who are now lamenting, “I would have done it differently.”
When I watch that video, I can’t help but think of the stories of all the other officers lately who have overreacted, who acted unwisely. Those stories are in the forefront of our public consciousness, right? Even if we don’t feel like we have every fact sorted out. And I think about how I would have felt if I was that girl, and the truth is simply this: I would have been so afraid. I would have known I did nothing wrong, nothing deserving of more than a gentle escort away from the pool and perhaps a grounding from my parents.
And now, what are we left with? We are left with yet another black child, another family, and another community who feels as though they can not trust their law enforcement officers. And as a country, that is something we all should mourn, we all should stand up against.
I fully admit that I don’t exactly know where to begin. I confess to you that I am often afraid and hesitate to trust; I am nervous when out for a walk or in an unfamiliar place. I confess that I often shy away from those who are different from me. I confess that my sinful gut reaction is to view “different” as a threat, when most often it is not. I’m not proud of it.
But maybe this: when we see someone out for a walk or out by the pool, and we don’t recognize them, maybe we can say, “Good morning! How are you? Feeling ready for summer?” Maybe we can ask their name. Maybe we can gently remind the teenagers that the neighborhood pool is for residents only. And when the teenagers say, “no way,” as teenagers often do, maybe we can call their parents instead of the police. Maybe we can view them not as a threat, but as what they are: a child of God, a neighbor, someone with a lot of growing up to do. Goodness knows a crime like trespassing into a pool on a summer afternoon is hardly deserving of two knees in your back, your face in the grass, a gun pointed at your friends, your fear and shame all over cable news.
Psalm 72 is my prayer today:
Jesus, defend the afflicted in our communities.
Save the children of the needy, and deliver them when they cry out.
And Jesus, may we be the people who step in to help. Amen.