Racism and police: What a father of a black officer has to say

Unsplash/Martin Jernberg
Unsplash/Martin Jernberg

When telling my story, I often begin by explaining that I was raised in a diverse family. Both of my grandfathers were black, while one of my grandmothers was white and the other was black and Chinese. I also grew up in two very racially distinct neighborhoods. The area that I lived in was 95% black, but the neighborhood in which I attended school was 100% white. I found myself subjected to racist actions and sentiments in both environments. I was criticized for both being black and for not being black enough.

Something I talk less frequently about – but has still greatly shaped my life – is that both my father and my son have served as police officers. Because of this, I have been given a front-row seat to many of the challenges and responsibilities that law enforcement face. This was especially true in 2020. My heart was broken as I witnessed the chaos and division that our nation experienced. The racial brutality was almost too much to process, but I was also deeply grieved as I watched our police officers suffer threats and violence at the hands of hurting and scared people.

Not surprisingly, my background has profoundly shaped my perspective regarding racism and cultural division. I have learned a great deal about the social complexity and cultural influences surrounding these topics, and I am grateful for the ways that God has used my experiences to teach me about the appropriate Christian response to any kind of division. As Christians, we are called to stand up against our culture’s “us vs. them” mentality and to actively honor the image of God in all people – whether they are black, white, yellow, or blue, or whether they are a police officer, someone experiencing homelessness, a child, or a political figure. We are called to love and see the potential in all people – even people who do wrong things. That is why my book, The Third Option, isn’t just about hope for a racially divided nation. It is about hope for a divided nation in general.

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How do we actively and practically honor that image of God in all people? Where are some places we can start? During the month of October, I want to encourage you to start by honoring the men and women who serve in law enforcement in your neighborhood. Some people may not be aware of this, but the weekend of October 9th has actually been named “Faith and Blue Weekend” by people committed to facilitating safer, more just, and more unified communities by enabling local partnerships between law enforcement professionals and local faith-based organizations. Faith and Blue Weekend – and the month of October, in general – is an opportunity for us to intentionally and actively show the love of Jesus to police officers in our communities.

For many of us, police officers tend to blend into the background of our lives. We may notice them when we are accidentally speeding on the freeway and have to quickly press our foot on the brakes to avoid getting a ticket, but they don’t tend to be at the forefront of our minds. We may have a sense that they are there to keep us safe, but it is easy to forget that they are actively working behind the scenes on our behalf. Some of us may even have a measure of distrust for the criminal justice system that causes us to functionally dishonor the people who are serving us. But while it is appropriate to pray for reforms in the criminal justice system at large, we also need to pray for a change of heart. And we need to pray for the men and women who are pillars of safety in our community. They need our love and support.

One of the ways that my church has chosen to honor the police officers in our city is by working with the San Diego Police Department to create the Henwood Break Room. It is named in honor of Officer Jeremy Henwood who was killed in the line of duty seven years ago. The purpose of this space is to provide a safe and comfortable location for law enforcement officers to rest for short periods during their 24-hour shifts. The break room includes restrooms, internet, phones, access to news channels, and plenty of comfortable seating, and it is always fully stocked with coffee, water, and snacks. It is a place for our police officers to refresh and regroup in a safe and controlled environment.

During the peak of the pandemic, we also worked to serve law enforcement in our community by providing over 2,200 meals to police officers. These meals went to the San Diego Police Department, the 911 Call Center, the East County Police Department, and the San Diego Harbor Police.

I share these examples out of the hope to inspire you toward practical action this month. As a Do Something Church, we always want to make sure that we are measuring and understanding the needs of our community. One of those needs, especially right now, is to provide encouragement and practical support to law enforcement professionals.

As we learn to actively and practically honor the image of God in all people, we will step further into our role as agents of reconciliation in the world. And as we actively and practically honor the image of God in our police officers this month, we will be acting as agents of hope and healing in the midst of divisive and damaging narratives. However you choose to participate in Faith and Blue Weekend, I want to encourage you to pray and ask the Holy Spirit how you can best show the love of Jesus this month.

Miles McPherson is the Senior Pastor of the Rock Church in San Diego. He is also a motivational speaker and author. McPherson's latest book “The Third Option” speaks out about the pervasive racial divisions in today’s culture and argues that we must learn to see people not by the color of their skin, but as God sees them—humans created in the image of God.


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