I stayed up late watching news of the killings of five Dallas police officers, just as I had stayed up late earlier in the week watching the coverage of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. As soon as news broke of the killings of police officers, I knew what would happen. Sure enough, when I awoke, cable news was awash with politicians and pundits declaring the killings were the fault of the Black Lives Matter movement. One U.S. Congressman declared that saying “Black Lives Matter” is a betrayal of MLK, Jr.’s dream of a colorblind society and anything other than “All Lives Matter” was un-American.
Pundits, members of the media—maybe all of us—seem to need to distill the complicated issues of race, violence and law enforcement down to a single simple narrative. Either you are on the side of black people or you are on the side of police. To grieve the senseless death of police officers means one must reject the claims of Black Lives Matter activists. To react with horror at the numerous killings of black men by police officers means one must view all police officers as enemies.
I reject this kind of either/or thinking.
Reasonable people may think, “Of course we can care about black lives and police lives,” but we are not living in reasonable times. In our current culture of daily violence beamed to our smart phones, there is little time for reflection or resisting the allure of simplistic political and media narratives. The social pressure to demonize one side or the other is immense. God calls us to resist the temptation to choose either one point of view or the other.
My heart can be broken for black men killed by police AND for police officers killed. I do not have to choose either one or the other.
I can declare “Black Lives Matter” AND declare “Police Lives Matter” without one cancelling the other out. I do not have to choose either one or the other.
I can validate the experience of black people mistreated by police AND validate the experience of police who feel unappreciated and unfairly judged. I do not have to choose either one or the other.
I can protest systemic racism in law enforcement AND express gratitude for the many members of law enforcement working to deconstruct that same racism. I do not have to choose either one or the other.
I can hold police who hold the power of life and death to high standards of accountability AND I can acknowledge the difficulty police officers have when making split second decisions regarding the use of force. I do not have to choose either one or the other.
On my better days, I follow Jesus Christ who condemned systems of violence and oppression AND loved the people caught in those systems. He teaches us we do not have to choose either one or the other.
Chase Peeples is pastor of Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ along with a bunch of other things including a father, a husband and a friend.