Riots and Racism

This past April 19th, Freddie Gray died from a spinal injury apparently sustained while in Baltimore police custody. This is the most recent incident in which a black man in a confrontation with police has died. It appears we are witnessing a repeat of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri.

The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked several days of riots. The community vilified and accused Officer Darren Wilson of using excessive force when he shot and killed Michael Brown. Based on Dorian Johnson’s testimony to the media, who claimed Wilson shot Brown in the back as he ran away and then continued shooting him when he tried to surrender. During the riots that ensued private businesses were vandalized and looted.

The United States Department of Justice and the FBI conducted investigations to determine if Officer Darren Wilson had violated the civil rights of Michael Brown. Witness testimony that Michael Brown attempted to surrender was not found to be consistent with the evidence or other eyewitness testimonies. Dorian Johnson was walking with Michael Brown when the confrontation occurred, and claimed Officer Wilson shot Brown in the back while he was running away. Three different autopsies showed all of Michael’s wounds were in front, not his back.

The riots were incited by the belief that Dorian Johnson told the truth to the media when he said Michael had been trying to surrender with his hands in the air when Officer Wilson shot him. But numerous eyewitnesses said Michael was running at Officer Wilson and had been repeatedly ordered to stop before Wilson opened fire. The federal investigation into the violation of Michael Brown’s civil rights completely cleared Officer Darren Wilson of any wrongdoing.

What we have seen recently in Baltimore is similar to what happened in Ferguson. Rather than wait for a detailed investigation to determine what actually occurred, rioters have allowed their emotions to cause them to act impulsively. Even if the Baltimore police are guilty in the death of Freddie Gray how does that justify destroying public property or stealing a television?

This is why the Scriptures caution us, “You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice,” Exodus 23:2. Because in a moment of emotion we can get swept up into something we may regret later. The false testimony of Dorian Johnson sparked a lot of confusion and destruction in Ferguson. It seems we are seeing the same thing in Baltimore.

The late Maya Angelou said, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” Racism is very much like hate, it too “has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” When will we ever learn to do as Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” Matthew 22:39?

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