The vicious, cold-blooded ambush of two deputies in Compton on Saturday night has sparked outrage and attention across the country. The helicopters are circling. The manhunt is on. The surveillance video is on every network. All resources are in play to ensure that the perpetrator of this crime is brought quickly to justice. And rightfully so. What happened on Saturday is appalling and tragic — the definition of evil. We pray for the deputies and remain hopeful that they will be able to recover and live their fullest lives.
The wholehearted, impassioned response of law enforcement to this shooting is a reminder of what is and what could be in the relationship between the police and communities of color. It is both the answer and the problem.
If we accept that all life is precious, it is the responsibility of our community and law enforcement to respect all life equally. It is our responsibility to respond with equal outrage, sadness, energy, urgency, and passion when Black lives, blue lives, any lives are targeted or taken.
The reason we say “Black Lives Matter” is because in these moments, when those in power run so swiftly to the aid of fallen colleagues, we see the response we so desperately desire in our own community. We have no choice but to conclude that other lives matter more than ours.
Of course, nothing justifies what happened on Saturday. Nothing justifies killing or targeting police. And anyone, any citizen or community leader in Compton who isn’t willing to stand up and rebuke this kind of behavior is a coward.
I know many of us are filled with so much hatred right now. We are filled with so much disdain. I fear that in our hatred, we are losing respect for life. We believe if we don’t handle things ourselves, bring justice by our own hands, it will never be handled.
Andres Guardado was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy in Gardena in June. There were no body cameras, no surveillance video released, and no response to calls for an immediate, independent investigation. The attorney general said he didn’t have the resources to investigate every shooting.
Dijon Kizzee was shot and killed by a deputy in Westmont after being stopped on his bicycle. He was shot twenty times. Again, no video, no charges, no public details of the investigation.
It feels that whenever something happens to us, the evidence seems to disappear. But when a deputy is shot, we see surveillance video immediately. When a deputy is shot, the world stops and there’s a massive manhunt. When we get killed, the killer is resting comfortably at home and the house is protected by fellow deputies.
Do we have a right to be angered — enraged — by our experiences with law enforcement? Yes. Do we need to shine an eternal light on injustice and move purposefully to tear down systems of oppression? Yes, without pause. But we cannot be in the streets saying “respect life,” and then take life.
The killing of innocent Black lives and the killing of innocent officers (and I pray that these two recover) all grieve God. He doesn’t choose grief for one person and dismiss grief for another. He grieves universally. He grieves the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Trayvon Martin. He grieves for the young man killed at the bus stop when gang bangers have an initiation night and take yet another innocent life.
Life has been given by God to all people, so it grieves him when we are slaying our brothers and sisters — period. We did not create life. We did not make life. Life is not ours to take.
Late Saturday night, I took to Facebook to begin a dialogue with my congregation and community around these themes. These conversations continued on Sunday and have yielded several specific and familiar calls for action.
When we get past this crisis, we ask for the same response from law enforcement when deputies do to community members what has been done to the fallen deputies. The same pain and hurt and that you feel now, we ask that you feel for us. We ask that the system that works for you — that produces surveillance video, evidence, suspects, a world that stops until justice is served — work for us.
We ask our community to resist retaliating with the same evil that we’re trying to fight. Disagreements with law enforcement can never justify or diminish the loss of life. The deputies shot on Saturday night are loved ones, brothers, sisters, and parents. We need to deal with racism in our institutions, but we won’t solve anything or achieve lasting justice by creating more victims and grieving families.
Justice requires accountability. It requires a system that holds both the community and law enforcement accountable. As we move forward, we ask for the immediate creation of a citizens advisory council that’s more than symbolic, one with subpoena power and real responsibility in decision-making, that would make recommendations on police policy, community relations and discipline. Such a move would go a long way towards building trust and bridging the gap between community members and law enforcement.
Swift, meaningful justice works when it works for all. It can never work when it only works for some.
I pray for the deputies and our community. I pray for all victims of senseless violence. I pray for equal justice. I AM praying for the great city of Compton!
Dr. Michael J. Fisher is the Senior Pastor at Greater Zion Church Family and the CEO/Founder of the JT Foundation.