Tulsa. Charlotte. Two police shootings. Two deaths. Two black victims. Yet Charlotte exploded in violent riots – echoing Baltimore and Ferguson, while Tulsa simmered but did not boil over. What was difference between the two cities?
A LA Times article credits two things: engagement of the Tulsa clergy and transparency of city leaders.
“In Tulsa, clergy-led vigils followed [Terence] Crutcher’s shooting, with the city’s police chief vowing to ‘do it better’,” write the authors of the article.
The quick and calming action of local clergy in Tulsa worked to mitigate outside protesters which swiftly began to operate on Charlotte’s streets.
“In Tulsa, community members credited clergy in keeping demonstrations peaceful before video footage was released, while protests in Charlotte were initially less organized and erupted into riot’s hours after [Keith Lamont] Scott’s death. Though action in both cities was dominated by locals, the Charlotte protests also attracted a handful of high-profile activists from…other states.”
Another contrast between Tulsa and Charlotte was the communication of city leaders in the aftermath of the shooting.
In Tulsa: “Within two days, video of his death was released to Crutcher’s family, who watched it with black pastors and elected officials. At one point the chief consoled a family member who couldn’t endure the footage.”
The video – showing Crutcher responding to officers with his hands raised – led to charges being quickly filed against the officer who shot him. Meanwhile in Charlotte, police initially refused to release the footage of Keith Lamont Scott’s shooting, further fueling protests. In public comments, the police chief said charges – if any – would be filed only after a full investigation.
Even new state laws reflect the divergent approaches to transparency. In 2015, Oklahoma passed a law allowing for body camera video to be released following a death caused by police shooting. A new state law in North Carolina does not allow for release of such videos unless a judge orders it.
Though it’s just a snapshot, I wonder if we see here in this two-city case study a way through the racial fog that seems to only be worsening in our country. What will help heal our fractured nation? Somehow, someway in this age of soundbites and identity politics we must learn to listen to each other. And somehow, someway, those who claim to follow Jesus Christ must help lead the way.
None of this will be easy.
During last week’s presidential debate, there were a few moments when the candidates got way off track from discussing the pressing issues of beauty pageants and tax returns to touch on more boring things like nuclear weaponry and race. When asked how to improve race relations in our country, Hillary Clinton spoke of our need to recognize ‘implicit bias’ that we all carry, while Donald Trump urged a return to ‘law and order’ in our streets. Naturally, there was no conversation regarding these ideas, and when the night was over, the acolytes for each took to the airwaves declaring victory, and denouncing the other side.
This is what we do today. We find our tribe. We run to the corners. We learn our talking points. And start yelling at each other.
Check out the picture I’ve included with this blog. Back in July in Wichita, Kansas, the local police department hosted a cookout where it spent the afternoon talking with regional activists and members of the local Black Lives Matter chapter, even shooting hoops with their children. The Wichita Eagle wrote of this event, dubbed the First Steps Community Cookout: “At one table a black man, a Hispanic man and a white man sat down with burgers next to police to share their ideas. It was the first time since 1992 that Jarvis Scott – the black man – said he’d sat down with a police officer, and the other two said it was the first time ever for them.”
Healing begins with moments like this. The Church ought to be a place where these conversations, where this listening, ought to take place. Our Lord commands it of us.