The Wright judgment

BY ANDREW TAYLOR-TROUTMAN, Columnist
Posted 4/21/21

The violent death of a 20-year-old man is tragic. It is also true that Daunte Wright, a Black man, was killed by a white police officer. These are the facts.

The editorial board of The Wall Street …

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The Wright judgment

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Posted

The violent death of a 20-year-old man is tragic. It is also true that Daunte Wright, a Black man, was killed by a white police officer. These are the facts.

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal was quick to point out that “the rush to judgment doesn’t serve justice.” Fair enough.

But we still must ask, how could a 26-year veteran police officer mistake her gun for her taser?

There’s no question that police officers face highly stressful situations. But Wright was pulled over for a routine traffic violation. It does not seem like a “rush to judgment” to assert that the situation rapidly intensified. The question is why.

It is naïve to believe that race is not part of the answer.

In his novel “Invisible Man,” Ralph Ellison described how Black men are perceived as threats just by their mere presence. They are like ghosts: often ignored, but if seen, perceived as haunting, malevolent presences. Ellison published that book in 1952, but I have friends who experience the truth of his claim today. In both explicit and implicit ways, many white people have come to believe that Black men are dangerous.

Black men, especially young adults, will tell you that white people will routinely cross to the other side of the street as they approach. Or white motorists waiting at stop signs will lock their car doors if a Black man happens to be innocently standing there. I have been a part of committees, both in business and religious contexts, in which a Black man expressed his opinion. It didn’t matter how softly he spoke — white people wondered why he was so angry and wanted him to calm down.

Each of us brings assumptions and biases to every encounter with another human being. Even seemingly innocuous encounters, therefore, are loaded with the potential for fight-or-flight responses. As with the fate of Wright, the results are often tragic, and needlessly so.

What are we going to do about it?

Even those outside the church may have heard the phrase in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is not suggesting that a person should not have opinions about right and wrong. Rather, the word “judgment” (krino in Greek) was originally used in an agricultural context of separating grain from the chaff. (Examples are found in Homer’s epic poem “The Iliad.”) You make such a judgment based solely on outward appearance. That prejudice is what Jesus condemns.

Jesus maintains that people should be judged or evaluated by “their fruits” — their actions and motivations, not their appearances (Matthew 7:20).

Of course, very few white people — including police officers — physically harm anyone. But we all must work to overcome our judgments based on the color of skin. The first step is not to become defensive or rush to justify one’s complete innocence. Rather, when Black men speak of their experiences with racism, let us be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger (James 1:19). Such reactions would deescalate potentially volatile situations.

We might even bear the fruit of repentance, which is the first step toward reconciliation.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His forthcoming book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”

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