I am not nearly old enough to remember May 4, 1970; however, yesterday someone shared Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and I started to think about the events of that day. As I did another scene entered my mind, video of protests in Columbus, Ohio last year where armed police officers took a knee alongside protesters. Though such actions did not receive wide publicity last year, there were a number of videos showing police officers and protesters knelling together and joining in prayer. Unfortunately, these scenes are far too rare, and far more frequent are the scenes of violence which dominate the news. We should celebrate the officers willing to take a knee with protesters, not because such actions mean they agree with the protesters, but because such actions diffuse the tension inherent in these situations.
Police represent the established law and order of our society, and protests like the one on Kent’s campus in 1970 or those last summer, are about rectifying a perceived injustice in that society. Tension is inevitable because that line of officers represents the very thing being protested, and both sides know it. In 1970 fear and hatred boiled over and 30 years later when I was learning about that event in history class the teacher was still taking sides. The tension of that event was never resolved. The people protesting government overreach were shown their fears were justified and hatred grew. Far be it from me to say that the actions of some officers last summer relieved all the tensions felt last summer, but they did have an impact. And that is the trouble with doing the right thing, doing the wrong thing happens once and has long lasting consequences, doing the right thing is a daily grind to bring about change. But those officers did the right thing, they were inherently saying the protesters were right, rather, they were saying they saw the anger and frustration and understood these people needed to feel heard. Their actions helped people feel heard, and showed the officers were not the villains.
Such actions, though, are not easy they take a great deal of courage. Those officers were deliberately giving up their position of strength. But when Jesus talks about love, greatness, or strength he does so in similar actions. Christians are called to be people who willingly give up power to ease tensions. Jesus tells the people putting him to death he could call legions of angels to fight for him. He chose to relinquish that power; he chose to meet the anger, fear, and hostility with a loving response, and he calls us to emulate him. If the United States is going to be a Christian nation then Christians have an obligation to support police when they work to ease tensions. They are our representatives and we need to hold them to the standard of “peacemaker”, not in the Smith & Wesson model but in the example of Jesus. A Christian Nation is a nation of peacemakers represented by those most inclined to seek peace. When we call for our police to respond on our behalf they should be ready to dissipate tension and bring peace. I have had the privilege to ride along with a police officer a few times and he was a model of Christian behavior. His willingness to model Jesus in his work allowed him to bring light into dark and tense situations. This is what we as Christians should expect from law enforcement. We should want officers whose first impulse is to bring peace to situations where there is no peace. And we should advocate for training which helps officers become peacemakers in the wider community.
Kent State was a tragedy which still lingers in the national consciousness and the events of last summer have the potential to be the same. But there is at least a spark of hope, we saw officers willing to truly stand in the line of fire. They stood in the line of fire, not by pulling guns or launching tear gas, but by showing respect and attention to those who were grieved. We need to encourage officers to act in ways which reduce fear and bring peace to our streets. This is a difficult and dangerous road to ask people to follow, and so we who do must be willing to help and support those men and women brave enough to take the path.