A City in Pain: The Shooting Death of Alfred Olango | Sojourners

A City in Pain: The Shooting Death of Alfred Olango

Alfred Olongo, image via Facebook

My city is in pain. After the shooting of Alfred Olango a few days ago in El Cajon, Calif., the cries from the streets have risen to the ears of the masses. Olango, 38, was shot and killed by police in the San Diego suburb last week after Olango’s sister requested help because her brother was “not acting like himself.” He was unarmed.

Those in leadership are tasked with navigating the complexities of yet another shooting investigation of an unarmed African-American man with justice and integrity. The mothers, sisters, brothers, and fathers in the community are tasked with lamenting the loss of their loved one who was crying for help, not death. It is in the midst of all this that the church must show up. If we are not an instrument of peace now, then when? Should we run into isolation? Should we cast judgment from afar? Should we shout the party line? No, we must lean in. We must listen. We must lament. We must leverage our influence for the flourishing of others.

The churches of El Cajon, San Diego, and this nation must be present — we are present — to sit in the pain alongside our sisters and brothers on the receiving end of this bullet. Our history and culture have taught us to see certain people and not to see others. The white church has often chosen not to see our sisters and brothers of color.

Jesus, a dark-skinned, first-century Jewish rabbi from Palestine came to heal our sight. From under the yoke of Rome — a global military superpower — he came to introduce a reality, a kingdom, that crosses every kind of cultural, historic, and religious border and boundary. He taught us to see the humanity, dignity, and image of God in everyone.

We see you, Alfred. We see Jesus in you. We see our humanity in you.

If you have heard nothing else, please know this: The church of El Cajon is leading and loving in remarkable ways. I've had the honor to not only be on the streets, but participate in clergy meetings led by the local, embedded pastors and leaders who have called El Cajon home for their whole lives. The vast majority are people of color whose communities have experienced so much pain, yet they generously opened their arms and hearts to white leaders, like myself, into collaboration. I have so much to learn in my journey toward the Jesus way of peace from these local heroes.

At Alfred’s citywide vigil on Saturday, I spotted diverse faith leaders from around the city and country. It is important to know that the national media's attention primarily to "violent protest" is not the story here. The church is being the church, and it is indeed good news. Some quotes I heard from local leaders in the meeting:

"We state right now that we stand with and for peace."

"We are called to be the restorers and rebuilders. We don't see angry protesters, we see hurting individuals. They are on the streets because they have been hurting for too long."

"We are committed to nonviolent, peaceful, prayerful protest."

I have to imagine that if the Apostle Paul were to write a letter today, it wouldn’t be assigned to any denomination. It would be written to the church of San Diego. It is only in our diversity that we will find our unity, vision, and collective presence as the healing hands of a God who made all things right, not through violent overthrow, but through suffering and selfless sacrifice.

May we, together, stand in front of every bulldozer that is flattening people — whether it’s mental illness, systemic injustice, racism, political power plays, or religious intolerance. We are called to be a unified voice and a unified presence. As I work with churches across our country, I see a growing movement that is choosing reconciliation over revenge, commitment over complacency, and healing over hatred.

For Alfred, for this community, and for our world, may we unite as the faith community and live into our common call to be an instrument of peace in a world desperately in need of restoration.

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