As we move toward Bethlehem this Advent season, in the wake of the grand jury rulings in Ferguson and Staten Island, I'm reminded of the rarely preached upon section of the story of the Wise Men. We leave this off in our pageants and often in our sermons. The Wise Men first go to King Herod to ask him where the King of the Jews was born. Herod responded with fear that a rival was born. He tries to get the Wise Men to find the baby Jesus and let him know where he is; secretly he wants to kill this misunderstood threat. We often end with the Wise Men receiving a warning in a dream, "they left for their own country by another road." But the story continues with Herod realizing he was tricked and in return he orders the death of all the children around Bethlehem under 2 years of age. The story ends with a prophesy in Jeremiah -- reminding us of Rachel weeping for her children.
Rachel's wails echo in our ears when we go the path of cool analyzation in the face of a generation of black children being killed before our eyes without recourse or justice. It's the safe and privileged position, to argue each individual case over our awkward Thanksgiving dinners, or on Facebook walls, or at the water cooler; all the while forgetting that this is happening every month, of every year, for generations.
The story of the Wise Men is timely and important. Who is Herod today? I don't believe there's an evil mastermind organizing the tragic death of black children. But I do see a nation feeling threatened by race reacting in violent ways, without recourse or justice for the victims. Travyon, Tamir, Eric and Michael were all on trial for their own deaths. From carrying skittles, to playing with a toy in an empty field, to saying "I can't breathe", to a punch in the face that was falsely reported as breaking the officer's skull but in fact caused light bruising -- we give the death sentence. We can parse out all the ways in which someone should or could have done something different, although in 3 of these cases I find none of those critiques credible in the face of Rachel's wail and weeping for her children. In Western societies, we do not give the death sentence for walking home from a convenience store with a packet of skittles; we do not give the death sentence for playing in a field with a toy, or for selling loose cigarettes.
Herod is in the rampant fear whites have of blacks. When Darren Wilson said, "I feel like a 5 year old holding onto Hulk Hogan" we were hearing the fear of Herod come to life. "He looked up at me and had the most aggressive face," he said to the grand jury. "The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that's how angry he looked." Officer Darren Wilson is 6'4" and 210 pounds. And he was facing an unarmed 18 year old. Officer Wilson also got to speak to the grand jury; something Michael Brown never will get a chance to do.
I know these cases aren't all the same. I'm not saying we need to convict anyone in the court of public opinion. I am saying that the court of public opinion always seems to rule in favor of the officer at the expense of the dead black boy, teen, or man. I am saying that I find it horrifying in a democracy that in each of these instances there is never a trial -- a child is dead and there is no trial. We can send a black man to prison for a non-violent crime at a rate radically out of proportion to white prisoners, but we can't even hold a trial for the killing of black youth when it's done by police? When we insist that black youth are treated fairly, while they lie dead on a Ferguson street for 4.5 hours for all the community to see, we keep Herod on the throne.
So yes, not all police are bad. In fact most are awesome. But when you hear another story of another unarmed black man killed by another white police officer over another petty mis-demeanor, hold back from the knee-jerk "it's not all cops." When Rachel was weeping in Ramah, over the death of all the infant men of Jerusalem, saying "well, it's not all kings" says more about you than it does the grieving mother.
We use our safe positions of privilege to listen. We take the risk that maybe the whole system is unfair and that unfairness means one race of people's lives are at greater risk than others. And we allow that possibility to seep in. If we can actually listen, from the place of compassion, we may imagine new ways to live more fairly and more safely.