Injustice requires interruption

Dec 1, 2015 by

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“Some of the most important moments in your ministry will happen in the interruptions,” a professor told me while I was in my first week of seminary. As I walked down Michigan Avenue in Chicago, speeding to keep up with the 15-year-old from my church, I wished I could say this to the shoppers around me.

Today, let yourself be interrupted. By God, let yourself be interrupted. I understand white Christians who are reluctant to take to the streets in protest — but I do not understand white Christians who justify the police’s murder of Laquan McDonald and find black anger “disruptive.” Injustice should be disruptive.

In some media accounts, the video of Laquan McDonald’s shooting seems to be the spark for this week’s protests. But this is about so much more than Laquan. The moment that interrupted my business as usual was last week, while I listened to a reporter describe the process of covering Laquan McDonald’s shooting. As I listened to his report, I thought, “He sounds biased. He sounds like he’s supporting protesters.” Then I realized: the reporter wasn’t saying anything subjective. He sounded biased because the facts themselves carry a bias: Chicago police shoot a civilian on average, about once a week. Chicago police kill a civilian about 12-15 times a year. Speaking as a reporter — speaking objectively of the situation — Chicago police are killing civilians almost once a month and the police department, to a case, has defended every single one of those deaths, even when the civilian was unarmed.

Chicago police are allowed to disrupt lives — to end lives — all over the city and expect no more backlash than a handful of civilians in the street. And when injustice is met with apathy, injustice becomes business as usual.

As a white Christian pastor, I am losing my patience with white Christians. White churches should be swarming streets today, not shopping malls. If we call ourselves Christians, if we feel the force of the biblical call to protect the orphan, widow and foreigner, then we do not just condemn injustice — we interrupt it. If we call ourselves pacifist, this is a no-brainer. If we call ourselves anti-racist and then see a bunch of black people in the street, it’s not a huge leap of logic to say, “Maybe their gripe is legitimate. Maybe they’re not standing in icy rain because they’re overreacting.”

Protesters took to Michigan Avenue in order to interrupt injustice and to interrupt apathy. To proclaim that not wind, not rain, not cold weather, not the family obligations of the Thanksgiving/Black Friday holiday, none of that was so sacred that it could not be interrupted. We shouted “16 shots! 16 shots!” up and down Michigan Avenue. At every intersection, we counted to 16. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen.” That is how many is sixteen. That is how many bullets were in Laquan McDonald’s body. That is how much force Officer Jason Van Dyke used. That is how egregious the police misconduct was — and is that not enough to interrupt your day? How much violence are police allowed to use before it becomes an interruption in your life? Would they have to arrest the whole Southside? Then would you call it injustice?

The measure of Chicago’s conscience is our response to injustice. Are we willing to accept a police department who, after shooting a teenager with 16 bullets in his body, called it a mistake? Will we accept a police department who apologizes by paying a $5 million settlement? Will we accept a mayor who spent a whole year saying the video of McDonald’s shooting didn’t need to be public information?

Christianity is a religion of interruptions. Jesus interrupted his disciples’ lives. Redirected them entirely. The Christian call is to interrupt systems of violence.

I went to Michigan Ave because interruptions matter. Because Tuesday night’s march was too ordinary, too dismissible. Because Tuesday night’s arrest of young activists was hardly noticed. Because on Wednesday morning, media coverage was spotty; only a handful of protesters who had been there the night before knew what had happened; because when they called the arrests unjust, the headlines hardly noticed; because when Malcolm London was released from jail and his charges were dropped, the media didn’t ask why they charges were raised in the first place. And if you haven’t heard all this in the news yet, go learn it.

This week, bouncing around in my mind as I try to make sense of all this, as I read articles and articles, one line has stuck with me, something Stephen Colbert said several years ago: “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” If you are paying an attention to Chicago police, to the leadership at IPRA, to the random and off-duty shooting of Rekia Boyd, to the violent and indefensible shooting of Laquan McDonald, reality has a tendency to expose injustice. Reality indicates that something is not adding up. When reality has bias, maybe we should listen to it. Reality indicates that we can no longer give the Chicago Police Department the benefit of the doubt.

And that’s… what? That’s just fine? Is your Christmas shopping more urgent than civilian shootings? Are you too busy for Black Lives to Matter? Then go on with your business… but don’t celebrate Christmas. Don’t celebrate the birth of Jesus. If you’re not interested interruptions, go on with your winter. Don’t let the birth of the Savior, the Advent of the Upside Down kingdom, the justice rolling down like a mighty stream, don’t let it disrupt your wish list.

Hillary Watson is a full-time Mennonite pastor in suburban Chicago. She blogs at gatheringthestones.com, where this first appeared.


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  • Berry Friesen

    “When reality has bias, maybe we should listen to it. Reality indicates that we can no longer give the Chicago Police Department the benefit of the doubt.”

    Thank you, Pastor Watson.

    You’re also right about the interruptions, how they are part of the Way of Jesus, part of our way if we follow his. Yet it’s important to highlight what you wrote about “the benefit of the doubt.” Granting/not granting legitimacy is the primary power we wield every day of our lives.

  • Joel Miller

    Preach, sister.