I remember a time when I passed an elementary school in one of Chicago’s housing projects at the moment the children were being dismissed. Standing on the sidewalk, men in their twenties stood waiting for their children. I could smell marijuana in the air, I heard profanity and catcalling, but the thing I noticed the most was something entirely different: Children were flooding out of the school, running and jumping and laughing. In one moment, I realized how wrong my prejudice of that area was. I had, in honesty, never pictured a housing project as a place laughing and filled with children. It was one of the most perspective-shifting experiences of my life.
Recently, many NFL players have begun to kneel during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality. Both the players’ action and President Trump’s response to it have produced a new swirl of tension and controversial Facebook posts. It reminds many of the videotaped police shootings over the past few years and accompanying protests. For me, it reminds me of those children.
In the midst of this entire situation, the movie Fruitvale Station proves to be extremely relevant. It reminds us that our perspectives are limited, something that everyone (including myself) needs to be consistently reminded of. We are not God, and our sinful hearts cannot see the world in clarity.
Fruitvale Station is based on the true story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III, who was shot by a police officer on January 1, 2009. The movie walks through the last twenty-four hours of his life, attempting to portray an accurate picture of his life. You follow him as he interacts with his four-year-old daughter, his girlfriend, and his mother. But the film doesn’t portray him as the perfect man. His speech is filled with profanity, he is disrespectful to police officers, and he threatens the man who has fired him from his job.
The movie begins with the actual cell-phone footage of the shooting in 2009. By the end of the movie, when the shooting is recreated by the actors, the movie watcher encounters the shooting in a new way. Oscar Grant III is no longer an unclear blur in a cell phone video, but has become a human who the moviegoer connects with. He is real but flawed human being, with real but flawed relationships.
Fruitvale Station reminds us that life is far more complex than we might prefer. Both the police officers and Oscar Grant III could have acted in a more responsible way that may have prevented the shooting. But more than that, Oscar Grant III was a human. Not a statistic, not a criminal, but a man made in the image of God.
With such a controversial issue as police brutality, we must approach it humbly. Whatever our opinion of the police or of criminals, our opinion arises from our experience. The police and criminals we have encountered in the past will define how we view the police and criminals that we will meet in the future. And, ultimately, I believe it is grossly naïve for anyone to assume that the police officers around America will all act exactly like the police officers in their hometown.
The Cause of America’s Race Problem
A quick scroll on Facebook will show that many people are discontent with the racial situation in America, for one reason or another. It is my opinion that one loses the right to complain if they aren’t striving to change the situation they are complaining about.
I am not claiming to have a solution; the police and racial issues in America are far larger than I can deal with. That is for God to redeem. Still, I know where the problem arises from. Are you ready?
It arises from me.
Similarly, an old newspaper once asked its readers, “What’s wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton is said to have replied, “Dear sirs, I am.”
Chesterton’s reply is strong and convicting. We are not innocent bystanders. Every one of us contributes to the problem of racial division in America. And before we can address the problem of racism (or any of its manifestations), we must ask ourselves how we contribute to the problem.
Looking and Living Towards the Future
I am deeply thankful to all of those who have held conversations with me that have formed my thoughts on this issue. I am still developing all of this internally, looking at the areas of life that I need to change to better live out my faith in the realm of racial reconciliation.
The national race problem is bigger than I can address, I leave it for Christ to address on the cross. Yet, as I work to weed out the evil of prejudice in my own life, I am encouraged by words from the song “The Impossible Dream” from the musical Man of La Mancha:
And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star
The star might be unreachable in our days on Earth, only attained in heaven. I don’t expect racial reconciliation to fully occur on Earth. I don’t expect police brutality to end, and I don’t expect people to cease misunderstanding police officers. I long for the day when Christ comes to Earth, and every nation, tribe, people, and language join in worshipping the Lord. Where everybody’s culture is honored and held in harmony under the one thing that can bring true unity through diversity: The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Until that day, I want to be the man who is scorned and covered with scars, striving with his last breath to get one step closer to a life that reflects God’s love for mankind. That reflects his love for all people, and His special love for the outsider. If I can make a difference in the lives of those around me for the glory of God, that difference will be eternal. And the difference will be beautiful.