Compassion for Jacob Blake under God's own grace
"I'm praying for Jacob and I'm praying for the policeman as well. I'm praying that things change."
These are the encouraging words of compassion that Jacob Blake's mother, Julia Jackson, spoke on the telephone during her family's meeting with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden earlier this month in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Blake, a 29-year-old black man, was shot seven times in the back by a white Kenosha police officer on Aug. 23. He was left paralyzed from the waist down. Protesters took to the streets to demand justice, and rioting and looting broke out the following days, bitterly dividing this Wisconsin city that rests on Lake Michigan. Julia Jackson saying that she is praying for change, as her son is now painfully disabled, isn't making huge media headlines. But with the dissonant racial polarization that has a despicable stronghold on our nation, we definitely need to be praying for one another. We also need to show empathy, as we have learned more about Blake's background. Court records indicate that Blake had been charged with third-degree sexual assault, trespassing and disorderly conduct in July. On the day of his confrontation with the Kenosha police, a warrant for his arrest had been issued. It is obvious that Blake has made some poor decisions, but his life was graciously spared. The Justice Department's civil rights investigation into Blake's shooting is ongoing, and there is no indication yet whether the officer who shot him will be charged. The silver lining in this tragedy is that Blake survived, and he has the opportunity to chart a new course.
Biden's visit with Blake's family was criticized by some conservatives as a political tactic to shore up votes in a crucial swing state that President Donald Trump won by a narrow margin in 2016. Some Republicans have also accused Democrats of championing "criminals" in high-profile police shootings of black men. Blake, along with other black men in nationally publicized cases of police brutality, such as George Floyd, does not have a squeaky-clean record. Floyd, whose death became a global rallying cry for social justice, served five years in prison for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. People should be held accountable for the crimes they commit, but we are treading dangerous ground when we permanently brand them with villainous stigmas. People can overcome their mistakes, even grave choices that set them back for years. Floyd was working in Christian ministry in his hometown of Houston before moving to Minneapolis to find better job prospects. He met a tragic end at the hands of police before he was able to get settled. In Blake's case, his attorney Benjamin Crump made a statement regarding Biden that is worthy of serious reflection, as racial tensions have not eased. Crump said that Biden extended to Blake "a sense of humanity, treating him as a person worthy of consideration and prayer." The root of our racial conflict in this country is ingrained in centuries of not treating one another with human dignity and respect. In 2020, we are still ensnared in the evils of bigotry.
When Biden visited Blake in the hospital, the two discussed verses 1 through 3 of Psalm 23: "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake." While you may doubt Biden's sincerity in this gesture, there is divine power and assurance in this Scripture. When your soul is restored and you "lie down in green pastures," these verses declare that you are resting in God's presence, where He provides clear direction for your life. At just 29, Blake still has the majority of his life in front of him. His court records show that he has had some trouble, but if he can get his soul together and seek God, his past mistakes won't hinder him. And God, unlike many in our society, is merciful and forgiving.
As Blake's mother continues to pray for change, I stand in agreement with her. However, things are not going to change until we dismiss our racial prejudice and start viewing one another with a "sense of humanity."
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.Copyright 2020 Creators Syndicate, Inc.