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  • Writer's picturedevin lisembee

Christians, Bara Dada, a swat team and me

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

Trigger warning: this blog contains a story about police violence.

I was 13 the first time I was physically assaulted by a police officer. A group of friends (all between 12-14) and I were hanging out one of our porches whenever the swat team pulled up. We found out later that there were some young men in the area dealing drugs but by the time the police showed up, it was just my friends and me.

As I was about to be frisked, the officer repeatedly asked me to spread my legs. As my feet began to slip on the gravel and I started to slip, I asked how much further he wanted me to spread them. He grabbed my interlaced fingers, whipped me around, raised his nightstick at me and said, “As far as I tell you to.” After that, he used his baton to hit both of my inner thighs and then brought it straight up to hit me in my genitals.

I was in the wrong place at the wrong time (completely unbenounced to me) where other people were doing bad things. I was just hanging out with my friends, was unarmed and had committed no crime. But being in the wrong place at the wrong time was enough justification for the officer to believe he could treat me however he wanted. It’s also enough of a justification for others to side with the officer and tell me I am overreacting if I get upset while recounting the story of that night. After all, if I didn’t want to be treated that way, why was I there in the first place?

I’ve been thinking about this experience a lot lately. There are the obvious reasons (the stories of police misconduct in the media), but there’s another reason that I didn’t expect: All the politicized Christianity has been reminding me of this too. But for much less obvious reasons.

Bara Dada once echoed the sentiment of hundreds of thousands of indigenous Americans and black slaves whenever he said, “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians, you are not like him.”

Whenever I look at the atrocities that politicized Christianity condones and endorses, I am so angry. A group that will use Leviticus condemn tattoos and homosexuality but ignores a couple chapters later whenever it says to embrace immigrants and take care of them in their time of need (lev 23:22). And instead chooses to endorse politicians that call them rapists, murderers and criminals. A group that is willing to risk the physical and sexual safety of trans people over a bathroom sign rather than remembering that whatever we do to the marginalized people of the world, we are also doing to Christ (Matt 25:40).

Anger in the face of oppression is almost always the healthy and responsible response. But I keep thinking about the officer who hit me. How do I keep from falling into the same trap that he did? What do I do with this anger that I feel looking at the horrific things people say and do that self identify with a faith I still love deeply?

Years ago, I completely rejected this phrase but I find myself returning to it. How do I hate the sin but love the sinner? Or to say it more succinctly in this situation, how do I hate the words and deeds of my fellow Christians while still loving them as human beings?

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