Fifty years ago, the Civil Rights Movement came into living rooms across America through the medium of television. Some have argued that, without the constant coverage of the media, some of the clout of the marches, sit-ins, and swim-ins would have been lost. However, because of the television phenomenon of the 40s and 50s, families across America were able to see the brutality that peaceful protestors endured.
Now, we have supplemented and, in some instances, replaced the power of television with the age of the Internet. I did not hear the latest headline on the evening news; I heard it via Twitter, watched it on YouTube, and processed it with my friends over text message.
A city that used to be a little-noticed Dallas suburb has become yet another lightening rod of racial controversy. Countless articles will be written by pastors, sociologists, and laymen and will take sides in the altercation between a fourteen-year-old girl and the officer who grabbed her by the hair and pushed her face into the grass.
Twenty years ago, this would have just been something we discussed with our friends and family; however, in our modern age, our audience has become broader than ever. With little accountability, we can access the ready ears of hundreds, sometimes thousands of followers.
No longer are the newscasters the experts; we in the living rooms are the newscasters ourselves.
McKinney and Us
I was raised in a predominately white neighborhood, the daughter of a black pastor at predominately white churches, the oldest of nine black children. None of us has ever experienced abuse at the hands of a police officer. I have never felt threatened by law enforcement; on the contrary, I know and love police officers that serve their communities well. I have never had so much as a speeding ticket, let alone been forced to the ground and sat on by a grown man with a badge.
I also have never had to rush to the scene of a disturbance and make split second decisions while a kid with his cellphone recorded me for the world to see. I have never wielded a position of authority as weighty as that of an armed officer, nor have I seen the men that I work with constantly criticized for making what they deemed to be life-and-death decisions that ended in the loss of lives.
These biases are what I bring to discussions about McKinney: I do not know what it’s like to be in this circumstance. I truly cannot imagine either the pressure that police officers face to make wise decisions in the tense, racial climate of our day, or the shock and fear I would have felt being manhandled by a policeman. And perhaps you relate more to me than the girl or the officer.
McKinney and Others
As soon as I saw the media buzz about McKinney, I began to apply my social and political biases to the situation. I started making allowances for my favored party and, as I did, my emotions began to churn. I was fully invested on my “team” before I even watched the video, and I was ready for every reason and excuse in the book to exonerate the party I deemed most sympathetic.
When it comes to these headlines, we are sometimes so programmed to decry all positions that do not match up with ours that we miss valuable opportunities to show nuance and sensitivity. We stop seeing people as individuals and, instead, see soapboxes. Whether the flag being waved is “Black lives matter” or “Blue lives matter,” we forget that the brother or sister we’re talking to in that moment matters.
We forget the calling that is placed on our lives. In light of who we are in Christ (Philippians 2:1), possessing the unity that comes from being of the same family of faith (Philippians 2:2), we are called to speak, not as pundits selfishly advancing our own cause, but in humility, “counting others more significant than ourselves” (Philippians 2:3). We are called to look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4) — to have the mind among us, which is the very mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).
So many of us would rather imitate Christ turning over tables in the temple than the explicit command to embrace his example of humility. Rather than viewing our brother or sister with understanding and seasoning our speech with grace (Colossians 4:6) and guarding our tongues (Psalm 141:3), we want to season our speech with convincing barbs and guard our opinions.
McKinney and Them
In doing so, we forget not only the humanity of those we are speaking to, but also the humanity of those we are speaking about.
We become incapable of feeling compassion for the fear in a young girl’s eyes when she’s pulled to the ground in her bathing suit because we are too busy trying to use her behavior as a cautionary tale about how the police should always be obeyed. We become incapable of feeling pity for the officer who had to resign from his job perhaps because he was simply trying to contain a situation that overwhelmed him.
I am not advocating that we become indecisive, unwilling to take a stance on behalf of the truly weak and downtrodden or supporting authority when it is wielded in a God-honoring fashion, but rather cautioning those who, like me, sometimes argue about defending the weak in a way that turns us into bullies, or support authority in a way that has us running over people that we do not really possess authority over.
Headlines like these pour into my life through my computer, my cellphone, and my television, and I feel the pressure to step into the discussion and become the social-media expert on the actions of one police officer and one teen. But I also feel the weight of the fact that McKinney is not just about the two figures on my screen, but also about my heart’s focus when it comes to hearing, understanding, and loving others. McKinney has more to do with me than I realized.