John 18:12 (Weymouth New Testament)
“So the battalion and their tribune and the Jewish police closed in, and took Jesus and bound Him.”
If the story of how Jesus was unlawfully arrested in the garden of Gethsemane in the first century AD were to be reported in the news today, the news headline would probably read “UNARMED MAN ARRESTED BY POLICE, TORTURED AND MURDERED”. The various questions that naturally came to people’s mind in response to reading such news might be:
- “Why would an unarmed man be arrested, tortured and killed?”
- “What had he done to deserve this?”
- “Was the incident racially motivated?”
- “Was the incident politically motivated?”
- “How could a harmless man praying in the early morning hours in the garden possibly pose any threat to the police?”
I believe these same questions would have been on many people’s minds as they read about the recent tragic events of white police brutality against the black community in America. Last July, an unarmed man named Eric Garner was strangled to death by a police officer in New York City. A month later, an unarmed teenager named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson. In April this year, an unarmed man named Walter Scott was shot and killed by a police officer in South Carolina. A couple of months later, an unarmed teenage girl named Dajerria Becton was pinned to the ground by a police officer in McKinney. The following month, an unarmed woman named Sandra Bland was unlawfully arrested by a state trooper in Texas and died in police custody. In the same month, an unarmed man named Sam DuBose was shot and killed by a police officer in Cincinnati. These are among the high-profile cases that were widely reported in the news media, and God knows how many more precious black lives were unduly harassed, brutalized or lost through the senseless white police brutality.
When I was thinking about the issue of police brutality, it occurred to me that Jesus himself was a victim of police brutality. The Jewish temple police and Roman soldiers who were involved in arresting and torturing him were the law enforcement officers of his days. They were part of the largely corrupt system that was designed to protect the interests of the wealthy, powerful and privileged people at the expense of the common people. The discriminatory system of the Roman Empire resembles the capitalistic, hierarchical sociopolitical system we live in today, which is akin to “the principalities and powers, the rulers of darkness of this world and the spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12), which we wrestle against.
I have come to realise that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the corrupted mindset of the privileged ruling class, especially white privilege and white supremacy, which has resulted in many painful years of slavery and oppression of indigenous people, most of whom are Native American Indians and Africans, by white colonialists who stole the lands and resources of the native people through force and violence.
“The birth and development of the American police can be traced to a multitude of historical, legal and political-economic conditions. The institution of slavery and the control of minorities, however, were two of the more formidable historic features of American society shaping early policing. Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities. For example, New England settlers appointed Indian Constables to police Native Americans (National Constable Association, 1995), the St. Louis police were founded to protect residents from Native Americans in that frontier city, and many southern police departments began as slave patrols. In 1704, the colony of Carolina developed the nation’s first slave patrol. Slave patrols helped to maintain the economic order and to assist the wealthy landowners in recovering and punishing slaves who essentially were considered property.
Though having white skin did not prevent discrimination in America, being White undoubtedly made it easier for ethnic minorities to assimilate into the mainstream of America. The additional burden of racism has made that transition much more difficult for those whose skin is black, brown, red, or yellow. In no small part because of the tradition of slavery, Blacks have long been targets of abuse. The use of patrols to capture runaway slaves was one of the precursors of formal police forces, especially in the South. This disastrous legacy persisted as an element of the police role even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In some cases, police harassment simply meant people of African descent were more likely to be stopped and questioned by the police, while at the other extreme, they have suffered beatings, and even murder, at the hands of White police. Questions still arise today about the disproportionately high numbers of people of African descent killed, beaten, and arrested by police in major urban cities of America.”
(From “A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing” by Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.)
Jesus came for this reason: to liberate the oppressed (Luke 4:18). It can be said that one main reason he was arrested and killed was that he openly spoke up on behalf of the weary and downtrodden and challenged the wicked ways of the oppressors. How many of the brave activists – whether they are people of colour or white – supporting the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter and challenging police brutality, white privilege and systemic racism have similarly risked their lives for the cause? May their efforts not be in vain, and may their blood, sweat and tears be recompensed. I believe that with every sacrifice, new seeds of liberty and empowerment are being sown, and germinate and bear fruit. Like Jesus said, “unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels–a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (John 12:24)
“People are changing their minds. Just like it did for the suffrage movement 100 years ago or civil rights in the ‘60s, public protest is working in 2015. Now all we need is some meaningful policy change.”