Laquan McDonald, age 17, was shot 16 times by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014. Officer Van Dyke is being charged for murder this morning- one year later. It is still yet to be determined whether Officer Van Dyke will be convicted, lose his job and be sent to prison.
Laquan was on PCP (Phencyclidine), a hallucinogenic drug, last October when he tried breaking into a truck with a four inch knife. I don't know if it was his first time on PCP or a regular occurrence. I don't know if it was his first time breaking into a vehicle or if even that was a regular occurrence. What I do know is that Laquan was as much an image bearer of his Creator that night as he was at birth. When the police arrived, Laquan refused to put down the knife or to turn himself in. This was an illegal action in which jail time was certainly the deserved outcome; but not death.
Several police officers followed him a half mile while they waited for backup with a taser gun. While waiting, Officer Van Dyke reportedly showed up on the scene. Instead of following the lead of the other officers and waiting for a taser gun, he made the determination that Laquan was dangerous and proceeded to open fire on a precious life 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14,15,16 times.
The video from the squad car will be released by tomorrow. From reports, it will show Laquan being shot in the back while walking away with at least a few of the shots being fired after he had already fallen to the ground. Laquan now joins the ranks of Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Eric Harris, Freddie Gray and numerous other non threatening black men that have been killed by police within the past two years.
The city of Chicago paid $5 million to the McDonald family in April, assumingly knowing that this murder was unjust- yet this is not enough. Justice isn't served by paying off a family. It is served by convicting anyone who places themselves above the law, no matter their race or occupation.
How should we as Christians respond? Are we to remain neutral? Are we to blindly let the justice system run its course? Are we to simply wait for the sweet by and by when Jesus returns to take us to glory? According to Isaiah 1:17, we must learn to do good, seek justice, and correct oppression. Doing good doesn’t come natural- it is a learned art. Justice doesn’t simply appear- it must be sought out. Oppression doesn’t go away- it must be corrected. We are commanded to act. We are commanded to participate in the process of justice. Following are some simple action steps I believe all Christians can begin engaging with, if not engaged with already.
1. Be Angry
So often we feel as though it is sinful to be angry yet there is indeed a righteous anger. God doesn’t simply dislike sin, He is angry over sin (Isaiah 30:27-28; Exodus 32:9-10). Jesus was angry when Gentiles were kept from worship in the temple (Mark 11:15-19). We should be angry over injustice and unrighteousness since it goes against the heart of God. The imago dei in Laquan was belittled and snuffed out. It has taken a year for an indictment. Someone who was entrusted to serve and protect broke the trust of the people. Be angry and do not sin (Ephesians 4:26).
2. Seek Justice
Let your anger turn to productive action. We can no longer be passive observers of the justice system. We must be active participants of the justice system. Get to know your local police. Go to community meetings. Demand body cameras to be worn by all on-duty police officers. Demand that all police involved killings be investigated by the federal government (or some other outside government agency). Engage in peaceful protests.
For further study on our current justice system, read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
3. Engage Conversations
Engage in conversations with people who are different than you. Ask questions, listen intently, and share experiences. We all have much to learn from one another. Diversity of culture, opinions and experiences are a beautiful thing. None of us has the complete picture. Let our differences grow us, not separate us. Get outside of your comfort zone and engage someone outside of social media.
4. Mentor a Teen
Laquan was a ward of the state. I don’t know what family dynamics led to this or what his relationship was like with his birth family but I can say confidently that he was in need of godly mentors. Youth, even from healthy intact families, are in need of mentors. My life was transformed by mentors. I have seen countless other teens transformed by mentors. We must engage with young people in this very critical stage of life as they try to find their place of belonging. Invite them into your normal rhythms of life and let the character and teachings of God influence their lives for His glory.
If in Chicago, check out GRIP Outreach For Youth for mentorship opportunities.
5. Pray for Peace
Anger will be the natural result of this graphic and violent video being released but not everyone knows what to do with their anger. We’ve all seen the actions in Ferguson, Baltimore and other cities. While most protesters are peaceful, there are always the exceptions that will use this for their own means or will act out their anger in the wrong ways. Let us be peacemakers. Let us pray. Let us get in the mix. Let us call people to Romans 12:17-19, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’
As Christians, our lives are not limited to the actions within the four walls of the church. In the same way, social engagement should not be limited to the liberals. Jesus called us the salt of the earth. Salt preserves and salt gives taste. Are we actively preserving the earth? Are we actively bringing value to the earth? If we are not being salty, then we have no purpose here on the earth. Let us fulfill our God given purpose.