In my first post on the George Floyd killing, I focused on peaceful means of change after the fact. In my second, we looked at a scenario that involved intervening in the moment. Let’s talk a little more about that: What is our duty in the moment? Whatever led up to it, when a downed, restrained man, clearly no longer a threat, is being killed right in front of me, what is my duty?
Shall I yell at the killer? Take a video with my phone? Is that it? Is it really enough to document the crime so somebody can maybe punish it after victim has already died? Or am I called to do something more effective to save his life?
If everybody involved is a civilian, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? We need to remove him from the guy’s neck — now. Failure is not really an option, so the only question is how far we’ll have to go to put a stop to the situation. If yelling at him or shoving him works, then great. If it takes a knockout punch or a broken bone to prevent him from murdering the downed man…so be it. Seems pretty clear to me. Now maybe the attacker is much bigger and stronger than you. Maybe you don’t have much of a chance. Even then, isn’t a man’s life worth some effort? Don’t you wanna at least try?
But what if the attacker is wearing a badge? Historically, we virtually never permit resisting the officer, even if he’s plainly in the wrong. In the moment, the officer has an enormous amount of leeway to decide what’s appropriate. After the fact, of course, those decisions are theoretically subject to review. But honestly, review is often unlikely, and evil legal doctrines like qualified immunity are regularly used to prevent serious consequences even when the officer is found to be in the wrong.
It’s a tough balance to strike. On one hand, we don’t want to live in a society where everybody on the street feels justified in assaulting the officer on the scene if they think he’s doing it wrong. That way lies madness. At the same time, we don’t want to live in a society where a badge confers the ability to murder someone in broad daylight, and no one will put a stop to it. In case you missed it, that’s what we have.
It is our responsibility to change what must be changed, and there is no way out of this apart from Jesus. We are past the point where we can loot Christianity for some guiding principles, secularize them, and then call them “human values” or “common sense.” The secularization process takes out something important, the the resulting mishmash of conflicting directives lacks moral authority. Again, in case you missed it, that’s what we have. How’s that working out for us? What we need instead is people at the scene who can hear the Holy Spirit and make Solomonic decisions on the fly.
So “let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” (Jonah 3:8-9) Nothing less than a real return to God will do.
Let’s be about it.