The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
These last few days have given our nation an opportunity to properly shudder (that is, to tremble in fear) . . . . to take stock . . . . to “number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom,” to lament . . . to pray . . . and to seek to see a pathway toward repentance.
As I number my days, I have to lament those who have had that freedom taken away from them, particularly as their children witnessed their last moments- either from the back seat of a car, or listening to the sea of talking headsreplaying the tragedies over and over . . . .
I think of a recent incident I was involved in as I was returning home from my office to eat lunch. Only three blocks from my church parking space a Greenville Police Department vehicle flashed its blue light behind me and I carefully pulled off Evans Street to a parking lot and awaited the officer’s approach.
Soon the officer left his vehicle and approached my passenger side door. I lowered the window and began a conversation that was never anything but calm, professional and pleasant in every way. All my exterior lights were in good working order and I had not exceeded the speed limit, but this observant officer had noticed that this inattentive preacher was driving a vehicle two months beyond inspection. The officer never raised his voice, nor acted perturbed. He literally said, “Do you think you could get this inspection issue taken care of in the next couple of days?” I smiled and said, “Officer, I’ll see to it that it is taken care of within the hour.” He wrote me a warning ticket and informed me that this would prevent a colleague from issuing a real ticket if I were stopped on my way to fix the problem. A bit red-faced, but grateful, I thanked him and then headed straight to a local inspection station.
In this case I would have to say I was treated with the highest degree of professional courtesy and understanding. I was respected as a fellow human being. The officer was a non-anxious presence, polite, respectful and exemplary in every aspect of his duty. The officer just happened to be an African American, and I, of course, am a white, Caucasian male. Both of us are human beings, and most important—we are both created in the image of God. I believe it takes a person of strong character and integrity to serve as a law enforcement officer. I imagine that this describes the vast majority of law enforcement officers. Judging the “content of another person’s character” requires relationship. It means assuming positive intent. It means learning to look first for God’s image in every person we meet.
I am grateful for an officer who embraces and embodies this, and for all the others who do so as well, I grieve with those who have witnessed their loved ones being judged, pre-judged, or profiled—whose loved ones have been robbed of the gift of life. A dream once articulated is yet-to-be-realized. Lord, in your mercy.
Jon the Methodist