“He let the officer know that he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him in the arm.” This is how Lavish Reynolds described the shooting of her boyfriend, Philando Castile, in a video posted last night to Facebook. The video has been viewed nearly two million times and is generating national controversy this morning. Mr. Castile died at a Minnesota hospital.
This is the second officer-involved shooting to make headlines this week. Early Tuesday morning in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a bystander’s cellphone video showed a black man named Alton Sterling being tackled by a white police officer. He was then held to the ground by two officers. One of them shouted, “He’s got a gun!” An officer then opened fire. The coroner later stated that Mr. Sterling died at the scene from multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and back.
The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting. Protests are continuing today in Baton Rouge; both officers have been placed on paid administrative leave.
The Minnesota video is just making news, but you have probably seen coverage of the Louisiana shooting. When you heard the story or saw the video, what was your first response? Did you assume that the officers’ actions must have been justified? Or did you see this tragedy as another example of racially-motivated violence in America?
Now consider these facts:
• There are nearly seven times as many black adult males in prison as white adult males.
• Quartz reports that black people are three times more likely than white people to be killed by police.
• According to a Pew Research Center report, eight in ten blacks say black people are treated less fairly than whites in dealing with police.
Do you interpret these statistics as indicating that black people are more likely to commit crimes than white people? Or do they indicate to you that police and the criminal justice system are biased against blacks?
If black officers in Baton Rouge had shot a white man pinned to the ground, would you feel the same way about their actions? If the racial statistics cited above were reversed, would you hold the same view of our criminal justice system? If the officers and Mr. Sterling were all the same race (whether white or black), would you feel differently about the tragedy?
In response to the Louisiana shooting, I wrote an essay for our website titled Racism: What Would Jesus Do? In his day, Jews and Gentiles viewed each other with extreme racial prejudice. Nonetheless, our Jewish Messiah befriended a Samaritan woman (John 4), traveled through the Gentile region of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1), and said of a Canaanite woman, “Great is your faith!” (Matthew 15:28).
Our Savior came to be a “light for the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6, NIV), so that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). His example moved Paul to ask, “Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also” (Romans 3:29).
Charles Spurgeon warned: “Be not proud of race, face, place, or grace.” If we love Jesus, we must love those he loves. And he loves every person of every race. John was blunt: “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness” (1 John 2:9). However, “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light” (v. 10).
Are you abiding in the light today?