Photo: Jordan Edwards, Yearbook Photo, Mesquite High School
Every time, the news hits closer to home. Every time, either the boy seems younger, or my boys seem older. Every time, I wonder what I can do to keep it from happening.
I can feel that curly hair, because I cup my 11-year-old’s head in my left hand whenever I buzz his hair with those old clippers I use to buzz my own. I notice that scraggly hairline at the top of the forehead, because I trim my 9-year-old’s hairline every now and then, as I get closer to teaching him how to trim it himself. I see those shallow dimples, and I know they’d deepen if he flashed those teeth he’s hiding behind that comfortable smile. And I see the teenage acne, signs of that treacherous transition I long to see my own sons navigate well. I see Jordan Edwards, less like a man sees a stranger’s face and more like a father recognizes his son’s future.
I look into those rich, dark-brown eyes and I see my two African American boys looking back at me, with all the dreams of youth and all the dignity of the life I hope they’ll live deep into distant horizons.
Then I see that face in a coffin — the coffin of a 15-year-old from the Mesquite Independent School District east of Dallas, unarmed then and now — and I think, “Dear God, how is this happening again? How do I know mine won’t be next? Am I too going to end up at a press conference next to a lawyer hoping against hope that three fatal bullets or two weeping parents or one more brown body in the streets of whatever-city-is-next can finally wake us from the stupor so many struggle to even acknowledge?”
I see all of that, and I think all of that, because I love my own two sons. More than words can tell.
But will I speak for them? Will I speak for yours? Will one of us speak up, until all of us speak out, for the life of our sons?
Some of you are totally on board; you already agree, before I’ve even said anything. Others are already apprehensive, or annoyed, or downright angry; you assume you’ve already smelled the “narrative” right through your screen.
No matter where you stand, please don’t pull the trigger yet.
I realize I won’t do this perfectly — this act of speaking morally and publicly about the latest police shooting of an unarmed black teen, this time in Mesquite, Texas over the weekend. I know I won’t do it perfectly, because there’s no way to think or say or do everything just right in situations like these. We like our justice clean, but justice in a messy world is rarely clean.
Which often keeps us from speaking, and acting justly.
But we just can’t do that. So I’ll start with the usual suspects: the caveats.
I know it’s never simple, and a full investigation will take time. I know that police officers have an incredibly difficult job. And I know that body cams and dash cams never tell the whole story.
These caveats, and many more, I know well. I’ve heard them before, I’ve written them before, and I always believe that thoughtful consideration is warranted all around.
But here’s the thing: At what point do our over-caveated voices serve mainly to muffle the cry for justice, silencing her with the noose of a thousand qualifications?
I know Proverbs 18:13, and 18:17, and James 1:21. Each represents sacred Scripture, and together they articulate a vital principle for discernment: wait, listen, gather facts, and don’t rush to judgment. I try hard to do that, I really do. But there are other verses, too, like Proverbs 24:11-12:
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?
No one should rush to judgment, but everyone should push for justice, especially when people are running for cover.
Who are “those being taken away to death” and “those stumbling to the slaughter”? The wise man doesn’t say, because he’s wise. He knows how eager we can be to minimize injustice and avoid responsibility. He knows the question we like to ask first, a question that disguises its self-justification in so many ways: “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).
I’d say a freshly killed 15-year-old, cut down by a now-fired officer, is a good place to start.
But we’ll never start longing for the justice God requires as long as Jordan Edwards is one of them. As long as he’s one of them, his plight remains their problem, his death their burden.
So we must ask ourselves, with ruthless honesty, how we really feel deep in our hearts: Is Jordan Edwards one of ours, or is he just one of theirs?