“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46
This is my cry today from the scripture I am preaching on this week. I am tired of turning on the news and seeing yet another person killed by a gun, this time a gun wielded by a police officer. I am appalled that they showed a man bleeding out after a traffic stop for a busted tail light. I am aghast that police officers clearly have a man subdued. There are two on top of him and then proceed to shoot him. I don’t want to see on your Facebook page a post about how wonderful police officers are, how thankful we should be for the job they are doing, how we never hear the good, or about the death of white people. Here are the stat so far this year according to the Guardian newspaper: 561 people have been killed by police in the US thus far in 2016: 136 black, 86 Hispanic, 13 native American, 10 Asian. Yes, the majority of people killed by police are white. For white Americans it is a class issue. If you are poor, you are more likely to experience police brutality. But we disproportionately kill black people in relationship to their criminal activity and their presence in the population. What happened to these two men does not happen to white people and is about race.
As a pastor, I keep hearing these words in my head this week: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” Jesus makes this cry in the midst of telling us how we are to live. This is at the end of the Sermon on the Plain. Jesus has shared with us who is blessed – the hungry, those who weep know, those who are hated, reviled, excluded and defamed. He then tells us to love – to love our enemies, to bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you, to turn you cheek and to give your coat. He tells us to give to anyone who begs and to let a theft slide. We are to love unconditionally, unreservedly and to do good. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Be merciful, be forgiving, and do not judge. And then ends with “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” He wants us to build our lives, our way of being on this solid foundation.
And yet here I am looking out at the world and crying out why don’t we listen. As a former political scientist I want to throw the constitution at you.
So relevant for discussion are Article 3 Section 2
The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.
We shall all be given the right to a jury trial. So where does it say a police officer is judge executioner or jury. So if you are stopped for speeding, for having a tail light out, for selling items on the street, for being drunk or high, for driving while black. There is nothing in this article that says the police office is the jury and can perform the execution.
Let’s move on to the Bill of Right.
Article the sixth... The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Everyone has the right to be secure in their person, house, and papers. Now it does allow a search with probable cause but a search does not mean an execution. Why aren’t we secure in our persons? If we have a black, brown or poor body we should not have to fear the presence of the police. We should be able to rely on the right to be secure in our own person.
Article the seventh... No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. If you are driving while black, brown or poor, you are supposed to be guaranteed due process of law. The due process stipulated is life, liberty and property. So how can a random stop, a call for the police to come because of a tip – lead to the loss of life and liberty without due process of law. A police officer showing up to the scene is not due process. There are the warrants, the grand jury, the trial all of which should occur before punishment. And for a traffic violation is the punishment really truly death. When you are on top of the guy. He is clearly subdued is death really the answer.
Article the eighth... In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
Ok so it says speedy trial. But when were police officers made into judges and juries? The trial is to be public. So if no one but the police officers and the defendant plus witnesses is present, I would say that does not qualify as a public trial by an impartial jury. The defendant is to be told the nature and cause of the accusation and given a counsel for defense. So again if a police officer pulls up to the scene of an alleged crime the person being accused has the right to know the facts – the nature and the cause for which they have been called. And they have the right to counsel. If they are shot before counsel is called, have we really followed out constitution?
Article the tenth... Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
So it seems to me this article is the only one needed to say what happened in these police shootings was not lawful. For there shall be no cruel and unusual punishment. I think being shot counts as cruel. Being shot for a traffic violation is unusual. To be killed by a police officer should first and foremost be experienced as cruel and unusual. Then we can discuss whether it was lawful and necessary, whether it was justified.
Article the second… A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
So in the two latest police killings of black men, they were shot for being armed. Now in these states isn’t there a law that allows you the right to have a gun and in most states anymore you have the right to open carry that gun. So why should carrying a weapon lead to your death? Now I have all sorts of problems with the current state of gun laws that allow us to carry weapons openly, and allow magazines or clips that can kill multiple people. But if you are just going by what proponents of gun rights have been advocating for than you should not be killed for having a weapon, it is you right to bear arms. For me this is a time when the ten commandments should trump human law: thou shall not kill. This is clear and precise. This law does not give you any wiggle room. Thou shall not kill.
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46 I am tired of the killing, the outrage that lasts until the next video, the next death. It is time to actually believe in and follow our rule of law, listen to our constitution and, if you proclaim to be a Christian, to follow his example of love – a love that causes us to inhabit the world differently. We are to be a people who stand up to the powerful for the cause of the poor, the left out, the lost, the hated. We are to love so extravagantly that we stand up and speak out. We start holding our culture accountable for bad actions, for systemic causes of violence. We can’t just pray for those who died, for the family to be comforted, we need to speak up, stand up, act out - so that no one has to be afraid that they will be killed by an officer of law. We need to pay more than lip service to our Christianity. We need to love so powerfully that Jesus doesn’t have to say to us “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46.