TO BEARD THE LION IN HIS DEN
There is a line from a Jim Croce song, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with Jim.” There have been times when I have been driving down a city street and group of young black men have been walking in it. These young people were not “crossing” the street, but walking in it and as my vehicle grew closer they seemed in no hurry to get out of my way. There was definitely the feeling of arrogance and insolence, and sometimes the actual statement of “what ya gonna do?” I wondered if they really felt that confident that I was not just as much of a jerk, that I in fact would obey the law, that I would not use my thousands of pounds of steel to just run them over because I had something to prove. It can be the problem of youth, to not realize that even adults sometimes decide they just don’t care, they don’t care about the law, or you, or what the consequences will be for their actions. Sometimes we watch animal shows and we see someone from Australia think he can keep grabbing the tail of the snake and it won’t bite him. Then of course he goes swimming with Manta Rays and they do in fact kill him. I remember once, during annual training, visiting a Tennessee National Guardsman in the hospital who thought he could catch rattlesnakes with his hand, which was now bound up the size of a sledge hammer. It is the problem with youth, the problem with men, the problem with people, that they might believe or hope the other person (or thing) has boundaries that they don’t, and then they are dead. Policemen carry guns in this country, and in many states so do a lot of the citizens. In the South, where more policemen get shot than anywhere else, policemen usually try to be polite during a car stop or domestic visit. It might make a difference in the outcome. Our behavior does make a difference in how people treat us, but not always. This however does not discount the fact that our behavior matters. Some who think they should be able to live and do and say anything they want to real life might come as a surprise. For some of those folks who think they can “beard the lion” and assume that other people must always treat them justly, and fairly, and legally; sudden death destroys that illusion. We read intense debates about rape and the anger over any implication that the dress or the behavior of a woman had anything to do with it. We hear outrage over someone suggesting that a woman might have been hurt by her husband because of her mouth. Our culture seeks to divorce responsibility from all victims of abuse, violence, or oppression no matter what they might have done. It might be good for the reader to remember this immediately following statement, and come back to it after getting angry at what follows: Anyone taking sexual advantage of someone without their free, conscious, while of legal age and status compliance, should be held accountable and punished. Anyone who has power or authority over someone else, and uses it to hurt them outside of the law or without due process, should be held accountable and punished. We give no excuses here for the perpetrators. It is still hard not to think a woman who wears scanty clothes, strips, gets high or drunk with men she doesn’t know, and who is then assaulted to be stupid, or wickedly naive thinking she can live life on the edge and not get cut. It is not because men especially aren’t responsible for their choice to be violent and aggressive, it is in fact because we all know they can be when they shouldn’t. Some folks act as if what they say with their mouth should never be the cause of someone hurting them, yet the Bible is a very old book and a long time ago it said, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.” (Psalm 34:12-16 quoted in I Peter 3:10) I know some folks would like to live as if what they say and do is completely protected by either the law, or by a culture they imagine they live in, but there are lions in the world, snakes, Manta Rays, and people who just don’t give a damn. The events in Ferguson are yet to be legally verified. Policemen especially are and should be held to a higher standard of professionalism and training (and accountability) in how to deal with people who won’t obey their lawful commands, or who resist them, if indeed they have done so. None of us wants a police officer to be the judge, jury, and executioner of our citizens, let alone our children. At the same time all of us have to realize, and teach our children, that policemen are inherently dangerous because they carry weapons that can end our lives. For the sake or our own protection we must not taunt them, or give them excuse to use those weapons against us. We all have to admit that even when we are totally compliant with the law injustice or tragedy might still befall us. Maybe you wish this wasn’t so, maybe you think that the police should obey the law even when you don’t, maybe you think that somehow they are better people than you are, but if in fact the conflict between Michael Brown and a police officer was because Michael was aggressive and/or non-compliant than all of us, and young people especially, need to take it to heart. This is no excuse for the overreaction of the police, and we don’t even know for sure yet why he drew his weapon. It is my fervent hope that we can make the police better in the performance of their duty, with safer results for the public and even those they are trying to police. Let’s try to bring officers to account if they overstep their bounds. Yes, I couldn’t agree more, but if understanding human nature gives us any wisdom we must realize that if any conflict is our fault then we have to be aware of the possibility of overreaction by others. People are sinners, they screw up, and sometimes they sin in reaction to our sin. I know that injustice occurs even when we do everything right but our behaviors matter and it is only a fool who thinks they don’t. Many of us were foolish young but some will never get the chance to learn from their mistakes.