Dallas Police Chief David Brown gave a remarkable, live 25-minute interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper about the shooting in Dallas.
I caught a portion of the Sunday afternoon interview. I was surprised by what I heard. I think our readers might be surprised about what he said. The transcript is available here.
“At my core, I enjoy serving people. And I am a person of faith. I am a Christian. And I believe that service is part of my direction, and loving people, despite themselves, is something I aspire to be,” said Brown, who attends Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship.
“I am flawed, though, like many of us. But I can tell you right now, you know, I’m not going to have a long conversation about me on this broadcast or any others. This is going to be about the men and women in blue who sacrifice their lives every day and these families planning four funerals.”
Brown said of the police officers: “They’re brave. They’re courageous. They did things that day that are just hard to describe. We’re learning that officers exposed themselves to draw fire, so they could determine what floor this suspect was on, exposed themselves.”
An African-American who grew up poor, in the inner-city of Dallas and has lost family members to violence, Brown spoke about the steady criticism of law enforcement.
The national conversation about law enforcement “is not sustainable to keep these officers encouraged.
These officers risk their lives for $40,000 a year, $40,000 a year,” said Brown. “And this is not sustainable, not to support these people. We’re not perfect. There’s cops that don’t need to be cops. And I have been the first to say, we need to separate employment with those types of cops, 1 or 2 percent.”
“But the 98 percent, 99 percent of cops come to work and do this job for 40 grand, and risk their lives … That’s just not right, and it’s not sustainable,” he said. “And I am just making a plea to this country to stand up as a silent majority and show your support for these people to keep them encouraged to protect you.”
How does the silent majority speak up about the unrelenting criticism of law enforcement?
First, affirm moral critique. The New Testament offers examples of moral critique: John the Baptist called the mob that came for baptism a “brood of vipers,” condemned tax collectors for collecting more than what was due and soldiers for extortion with threat and false accusation (Luke 3:7-14). Jesus challenged the values of his hometown synagogue (Luke 4:20-29) and the attitudes of the Pharisees (Luke 5:31). He referred to Herod as “fox” (Luke 13:32) – hardly a moral endorsement of his governance.
At its best, protest is a form of moral critique. It has long been part of the American tradition, especially the Baptist heritage.
Not all protests or protesters are righteous, however.
“During the protest that was planned as a static event, several people, 20 or 30 people, showed up with AR-15 rifles slung across their shoulder. They were wearing gas masks. They were wearing bulletproof vests and camo fatigue,” said Brown. “When the shooting started, they began to run. And they began to run at street level across where shooting was occurring.”
The police officers saw them as suspects, said the chief. “Someone is shooting at you from a perched position and people are running with AR-15s and camo gear and gas masks and bulletproof vests, they are suspects.”
Nonviolent protest is the course to follow – and too many protests are violent or threatening.
Second, respect those in authority – law enforcement. Romans 13 reminds us to give “respect to whom respect is due.”
The passage speaks about governing authorities who have been placed in positions of authority by God. This passage has been misused from justifying the death penalty (bearing the sword) to accepting passively the reign of evil-doers. Such misuse has led some to discard the text completely.
If we advocate respect for the other – undocumented immigrants, Muslims, returning citizens and LGBTQ people – then why not advocate respect for police officers?
Third, practice discernment. Jesus said, “Be wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16).
Being wise as serpents may mean that we see the wrongs without assigning blame to an entire group – race, class, political affiliation or the color of one’s work clothing. Good theology recognizes that all human beings are flawed.
The exclusive claim that only certain racial groups matter discards the biblical truth that all life matters. It is untruthful and unwise. It is a divisive claim designed to pit the innocent (young black males in particular) against the guilty (all of the white society).
Looking at the rates of incarceration of young black males underscores the deep flaws in our larger society, just as looking at the rates of black-on-black violence underscores the flaws in the black community.
As Chief Brown says about police officers, “we’re an imperfect people.” The same is true of our society – imperfect.
Fourth, avoid rush to judgment. The Apostle James wrote, “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).
Being slow to speak isn’t synonymous with the failure to speak. Being slow to anger isn’t synonymous with quenching righteous anger.
“Who specifically do you think needs to show more support to our men and women in blue?” Tapper asked Brown.
Brown called on the media, public officials and the larger community to get to know the whole story. He warned about how the media will “sensationalize the video … Show the whole story. And when you don’t know the whole story” say so.
From my vantage point, sensational video causes us to have a hair-trigger tendency to rush to judgment. This is especially true in the age of social media.
Four ways to avoid social divisiveness (deepening polarization) are to affirm moral critique (nonviolent protests), respect those in authority (law enforcement), practice discernment (recognize that all lives matter and no one is perfect) and avoid the rush to judgment (be slow to anger).
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.