This morning has left my mind spinning in reflection on the police in our neighborhood. We have lived in the neighborhood for a little under a decade now and I have only grown more and more uncomfortable with the police here. I have had police run up on a homeless friend and I as we talked on the corner of Nebraska and Lake. Their cars jumped the curbs and they catapulted from their cars in full force to stop what must be a drug deal. I, and many other white friends, have been stopped and either interrogated just for being in this neighborhood or offered help since we were obviously lost. One friend was robbed at gunpoint and then after flagging down a cop for help, he was interrogated for being here for drugs. The cops only added trauma to the traumatic. They never even considered that he was telling the truth. We have witnessed and reported a cop in this neighborhood push a little kid down. We have been pulled over constantly for the slightest of reasons and occasionally no reason at all. They fly past our house at a speed that will kill anyone in their path on a nightly basis, there sirens lull us to sleep each night, and the sound of that ‘ghetto bird’ is as much a part of our evening sky as the moon.
This morning we had a friend join us for prayer and breakfast. He is a black man with dreadlocks. We had a wonderful morning joining him in his ‘power breathing exercises’, eating, praying, and discussing Haiti. As he left our house with his backpack and two apples in hand a police spun around and pulled up on him like he was fleeing a crime scene. The cop starts accusing and questioning him. “Do you live here?” “What are you doing?” Our friend just hung his head and waited for one of us to come out and tell the officer to leave our friend alone and assure the cop that he was a guest of ours.
As I left for work I kept thinking to myself that this must be what it is like to live under a military occupation. I know this may be an exaggeration but I am not sure how much of one it is. Our neighborhood is under constant patrol by a hostile and prejudice force. Their presence is a constant reality to me and my neighbors. This constant presence is not a comfort to any of us. It is a threat. It is oppressive in nature. Our neighborhood has the feeling of an occupied territory.
This thought immediately led me to reflect on Jesus who absolutely lived in an occupied territory. Roman soldiers were a constant presence and threat in first century Palestine and his words from that context are relevant to us today. In that day a roman soldier could randomly choose any individual and force them, by law, to carry their bags one mile. This is why people used to set up ‘mile stones’ a mile from their house so when they reached that point they could drop the bags and return to their houses and lives. It is in this context that Jesus said if someone forces you to walk with them one mile…"Go two!”
I have got to be honest that I have no clue how to apply this teaching. I don’t like it and this reflection is far from over. This question is at the heart of Christian nonresistance and nonviolent resistance. I am reminded of Tolstoy, Gandhi, & King and can’t help but cringe on the inside at their ideas and lives. They are counter to every natural reaction in me and they are heroic for that same reason.
Tolstoy said “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
Jesus, help me see you and walk in your ways. I know that you embraced and died on the cross of that occupying people.
It is scandalous!