Last week five innocent police officers in Dallas were shot by a sniper who was outraged by the unjust killings of black men by white police officers in other cities, cities far from Dallas. That these men in blue were killed while trying to protect people protesting against them is a modern Shakespearean tragedy, with the notable difference that they didn’t get to walk off the stage at the end of the performance.
The shooter was Micah Xavier Johnson. He was 25 years old. He was an Army veteran who had served in Afghanistan. According to research, one in three returning troops are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress symptoms. Less than 40% of them will seek help. On average FIVE active-duty troops attempt suicide EACH DAY. For troops suffering from combat trauma, two out of three of their marriages are failing. One-third of our nation's homeless are veterans. I don’t know if any of these statistics applied to Micah Johnson; he was reportedly discharged for accusations related to sexual harassment.
Which further underscores…
We have a sex problem.
We have a gun problem.
We have a race problem.
We have a healthcare problem.
We have an education problem.
We have a law enforcement problem.
And we have a veterans services problem.
Micah Johnson’s anger was unquestionably misplaced, and there is nothing right or sane or justified about his actions. Even though he has been a victim of multiple systems who have failed him, he was not justified in victimizing others. No one ever is.
But it keeps happening.
It is much easier and simpler to characterize an individual as evil than to question the innate injustice of the systems that contributed to him or her becoming so. We stamp EVIL on the file and close the case. Just as we did with Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And James Holmes, the shooter at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. And Syed Farook and his wife who opened fire in his workplace in San Bernardino, California. And all of the others.
Yes, there is evil in the world, and yes, the actions of these individuals are clear evidence of it. But if we think we have no responsibility, we are at best fooling ourselves and at worst contributing to the brokenness of the systems which facilitated their actions.
We take sides, and the trenches between us – the trenches that contribute to the brokenness – grow deeper.
We shake our heads and return to our safe, comfortable lives.
But we are not safe. And the last thing God wants us to feel right now is comfortable.
We need to admit the sex problem,
legislate the gun problem,
seek to understand the race problem,
address the disparity in education,
stop the stigma around mental health,
train law enforcement adequately,
and fund veterans services.
And we need to hold these systems and their leaders accountable.
Because if the right systems are in place, these people in crisis – these humans created by God, just as you and I were – can be helped. Their lives can be pulled back from the edge and redeemed before tragedy happens.
We must recognize that the root of these issues is FEAR. And the only antidote to fear is love.
We must stop clinging so tightly to what we believe are our “rights” (because that is a posture of fear) and instead consider that we are called to live in community (a posture of love). Thoughts and prayers are a good place to start. If you aren’t doing that, please, please, do it now.
There is no them. There is only us.