An inspirational moment came during a protest in Michigan, when Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson put aside his riot gear and told a crowd of demonstrators that he’s there to listen and to help. When asked what they wanted him to do, they chanted, “Walk with us! Walk with us!”
Swanson and some of his deputies joined in the march. It showed how law enforcement officers are capable of compassionately relating on a human level and creatively deescalating a situation. It was a breath of fresh air to see officers high-fiving and hugging protestors after so many replays of African Americans crying out for police to let them breathe.
How far will Swanson and other officers walk/kneel with us?
Was this deputy truly joining their cause? Let’s revisit a phrase just prior to the “Walk With Us!” chant. “I want to turn this protest into a parade.” A light-hearted, well-meaning comment to break the ice, right? However, how can you transform a protest into a parade when no major victory has been won? How far are you willing to walk to bring such a transformation? If it’s no further than the cleverness of the moment, then you’re not walking with us – you’re co-opting us. That’s nothing to celebrate.
When we have St. Patrick’s Day parades, we celebrate a legendary figure, who evangelized Ireland in the 400s, used shamrocks to teach idol worshippers about the trinity, baptized thousands of people, ordained several priests and deacons, and supposedly chased all the snakes from the island into the sea. If we want to turn a time of mourning and protest of police brutality into a parade, officers need to do more than symbolically walk up the street with us. We need them to metaphorically walk with us into places we can’t go and chase away the snakes from within their precincts.
Why not have a Saint Swanson’s Day Parade, if he evangelizes his fellow officers to see every person as an image-bearer to God – from whom we all receive the breath of life? If Swanson and other law officers really want to walk with us, then they should walk into their city halls and county seats and use their authority to push for reforms of police departments and police unions. Walk with us by abolishing the blue code of silence. Walk with us by insisting on diversity and de-escalation training. Walk with us by submitting to civilian review of accusations of police misconduct, because there’s no accountability when the police police themselves.
For all the officers who courageously and humbly knelt down with protesters – Thank you! Now will you explain to the White House and the rest of the country what Kaepernick’s gesture was about? And will you kneel with us again when one of your own uses unnecessary force to kill or maim unarmed and/or subdued citizens? If you’ll honor those you’ve sworn to serve and protect the same way you honor other fallen officers, then we can all rest from the mutual suspicion, heated debates, protests, and riots. We know most of you are as exhausted as we are.
Will we walk with them?
When police show willingness to walk with us, will we walk with them? When they’re willing to drop their guard, will we respect them as much as when they’re geared up? Will we insist that the cities, counties, and states that employ them provide the training and counseling and other support systems they need? Will we challenge protestors to stay on message and not be abusive toward the police and destructive of property? Will we kneel for them? Will we remember them and their families and their fallen in our prayers?
Transforming protests into parades is reminiscent of Isaiah’s vision of when we’ll be able to turn our swords into plowshares (2:4). It is a worthy goal that takes more than a few high fives and hugs, although that’s a good start. It’s going to take the grace of God and the sustained, mutual determination of humanity. Ok, let’s walk!