Since the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown—and lack of indictment of the officer, who is white—sparked massive protests in Ferguson, the news has featured a seemingly constant stream of headlines about black men and women who have been killed by police or died while in custody: Walter Scott, Akai Gurley, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Samuel DuBose and Sandra Bland—and most recently, Alton Sterling.
We recently spoke with Lisa Sharon Harper, Chief Church Engagement Officer and columnist at Sojourners and one of the authors of Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith, about the string of police shootings, how our society can hold authority figures more responsible and how the evangelical church can help usher in change and racial reconciliation.
Do you think the problem of police violence has gotten worse recently, or do you think it’s something the media is just more tuned into?
Unfortunately, we don’t really know, because [we don’t have] good data. We do know that what is being revealed is horrific.
I think that the main thing I take from this is that police need to be more accountable.
As a young teenager on my way to college, my brother was actually pulled over by a police officer with me in the car and forced out onto the highway at 10 something at night on the New Jersey turnpike. [Most people of color] have all had this experience, so it was not at all inconceivable to us that a police officer would abuse their authority. Yet, within the evangelical church, there is this dark divide between how we interpreted Michael Brown and Eric Garner and John Crawford and now the scores after that.
If you’ve experienced it and everyone in your family has experienced it and everyone you know that is a certain hue has experienced it, then you don’t really need to wait for forensic evidence to say it’s very possible for police officers to abuse their authority.