The video showing the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald galvanized the nation last week. The police officer who shot the 17 year old teen 16 times in a senseless act of violence was charged with first degree murder. Monday his bail was set at $1.5 million as he awaits trial. The political pundits spoke into news commentary about the problem of race in our nation. Statistics emerged about Chicago having the most cop shootings in the country. Accusations of cover-up and lack of accountability headlined the local newspapers. Everyone had an opinion on the situation. I was no exception as I thought about how a city I call my own could have experienced such a tragedy. Protests occurred in the Deep South where racism still exists. Chicago is supposed to be progressive and enlightened. Clearly, racial tension knows no geographic boundaries.
The night the footage was released I was chatting with several people who happen to be African-American. It is interesting to hear their sentiments on the footage. There was a sense of deep sadness over the loss of life due to a “civil servant” losing self-control. No excuse was provided for the officer. It was clearly an unwarranted act that demanded justice. Furthermore, surprise was absent from the conversations. Having walked through racial profiling and discrimination, the unfortunate death of the teenager did not shock this group. They could recall countless stories of similar acts of hatred although not to the degree of murder. It was a matter of time before something like this occurred. Yet, they did not express venom towards the officer but rather genuine sadness and frustration that such discrimination still exists in our country. Furthermore, it was not simply the crime that bothered them but the cover-up. No accountability or personal ownership existed among the police department that was supposed to protect the public. They displayed balance by affirming that numerous police officers are good and fair. But most of all, they were concerned about their ride home and those of others. They prayed for safety. They prayed for peace. They were going to be traveling to the very areas where the shooting took place. As a result, they knew protests and riots would occur. But, they hoped in a city they loved that no escalation would occur. In their hearts they longed for believers and churches to step up and model a different kind of response, one of reconciliation – that Chicago would be an example of how to handle such a senseless act.
I found myself humbled in that moment. I was listening to someone not paid to provide political commentary. This was not a suburban person calling from the comfort of their own home about the state of racial issues in America. The comments were not from a person in their car stuck in traffic as they head to their comfortable and safe suburban home. No, these thoughts and emotions arose from someone who has lived the discrimination. It was personal to them as they were African-American thus better able to understand the racial plight of their own people. They were people who would drive the streets, see the protests, and fear for their own safety.
This moment reminded me that it is dangerous to comment on someone else’s situation unless you attempt to understand what it is like to walk in their shoes. Before I provide solutions to the problem of race, it is best that I listen to those that have experienced it. It is quite naïve to presume the experiences of someone else. Yet, this is what we do. We respond in haste based on opinions developed through media, political affiliation, religious background, or family perspectives. These responses don’t get us closer to a solution. But listening will. Listening cultivates empathy. Listening creates openness to understanding. Listening helps us see the personal dimension of such tragic events. Listening helps us express love and is the first step towards reconciliation and eventual healing.
“Be quick to listen and slow to speak.” James 1:19