Law Enforcement Requires Trust

The situation in Ferguson is a tragedy because the trust between law enforcement and the people has broken down. The officer may have been justified or not justified in his action, the boy may have been killed wrongfully or not, but either way it is clear that the people have no confidence in their law enforcement.  

The problems in Ferguson sadly mirror problems that we have seen in places around our country: 

a) Difference breeds distrust: 2/3 of the population of Ferguson are African American, but less than 10 percent of their police force is African American.  In an ideal world this would mean nothing, but sadly our society is not post-racial.  Racism still exists in corners that are more convenient to ignore.  Because of this, any difference in racial representation breeds distrust.  
b) Distrust leads to suspicion: If you believe that your police harbor racial animus against you, you will be likely to interpret any action they take as an attack.  It is human nature.  Yesterday I was sitting in the back of a vehicle without a seat-belt.  I was holding back a pile of luggage and hadn’t thought to buckle up.  I looked out of the window and saw a police officer in a patrol car.  When the officer followed our vehicle, I began to panic.  I was thinking about seat-belts and read my own situation into the officer’s interpretation.  My reaction was entirely reasonable, but incorrect.  I tell this story to say that it is not paranoid for the residents of Ferguson to see racism behind the actions of their police, even if to outsiders it seems confusing.  
c) Suspicion leads to resistance: If an authority that you suspect of having a secret agenda against you tells you to submit, you would be crazy to fully comply.  Issues like those in Ferguson cause more issues like themselves.  More young men will resist arrest if they believe their local police authorities cannot be trusted.  This means that more young men will be shot.  This is a tragic circumstance that cannot be dismissed with easy slogans or simple solutions.  

I have no idea what actually happened on that night, and I don’t claim to have the answers to solving America’s racial problems, but I do know that this is a problem of democracy and of representation.  When people do not trust their authorities the situation can never heal itself.  There ought to be a way for communities to appeal to the State to have their police department investigated and replaced by a special action.  Police abuse has been a problem many societies, including our own, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.  

With that said, I’m not sure violent opposition is ever the right response to police abuse, real or imagined.  As a Christian, I am convinced that the government is always preferable to anarchy and that God placed even the worst of governments over us.  Romans 13 is fairly clear that we ought to submit to the government.  It is even more serious in historical context: Paul was talking about the Roman Empire, which was not known for its commitment to democratic representation and respect for human rights!  But regardless of this fact, I don’t hold it against the protesters that they resist.  I cannot imagine the betrayal and distrust that they feel and ask that we respect their position.      

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3 thoughts on “Law Enforcement Requires Trust

  1. Interesting post. What I feel is lacking is a discussion about the responsibility of the police force to have a level of trust in its citizens, and not view the people who are placed in their charge as “other. ” put another way to remember the serve in their protect and serve credo. The events in Ferguson did not happen in a vacuum. This particular department has a history of Simular abuses such as charging a suspect who when found innocent of the initial crime they were charged with, decided to charge the suspect with destruction of property. The destruction of property that occurred was that the suspect bled on the officers uniform after receiving a beating from the arresting officials.

    When people feel that their institutions provide a place where their issues can be addressed, they choose to act through those means. What can be observed in Ferguson is a breakdown of those civil institutions, where the public trust isn’t being protect.

    Regardless of ones position on the actual brown case, this can be clearly seen in how members of the free press were treated. They were directed to stop reporting and then summarily arrested. These actions are unquestionably a violation of law and well supported by legal precedence. Or in their respect for property rights. This police force, while citizens were on there own property were tear-gassed for no other reason than that they refused to leave their own yards. All of these abuses of civil liberties should give every citizen pause. Interestingly, our founding documents provide a solution should the abuses of public trust be so abused. Revolution.

    Regarding Paul’s position on governments and submission, given the time frame it makes perfect sense to not challenge such abusive regimes, but my reading is not that Paul was suggesting that we as Christians should condone the actions of Rome, in fact on multiple occasions he suggested that we ought to not take part in those practices. In my mind Jesus was a rebel. Someone who spoke truth and brought revelation to the power and aided the helpless. By anyone’s definition those are not the actions of a sympathizer or collaborator, rather of a rabble rouser, a leader.

    Perhaps we should all attempt to more closely follow the the second great commandment of love thy neighbor as we love ourselves. In that light abuses seen in Missouri would not occur.

    I do commend you for writing on the subject. The more we engage in a thoughtful dialog, as brothers in Christ, the sooner we can achieve the goal of making such events part of our colorful history.

    PS -Any typos above are strictly due to my thumbs not being as nimble as the once were. 🙂

    • Thanks for your response! You are absolutely right that the past abuses ought to be taken into account. I should do some more research into that. I really wish there were a better way to call for a state or federal investigation of a police department, because I am not satisfied with revolution as an answer.

      Your point about Paul is well taken, Christians are certainly expected to challenge the existing system. I guess my reading of the passage indicates that such challenges should not be made through force or insurrection.

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