'Our blood is the same color,' black Dallas pastor tells broader community in plea for unity

by Tammi Ledbetter/Norm Miller |

(REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)A woman raises her hand during a prayer service at the Concord Baptist Church, one day after a lone gunman ambushed and killed five police officers at a protest decrying police shootings of black men, in Dallas, Texas, U.S., July 8, 2016.

DALLAS (Christian Examiner) – In a candid and controversial radio interview featuring several civic leaders in Dallas, a police sergeant and Methodist pastor said everyone has bias toward one another.

Dallas Police Association vice president Michael Mata, and Richie Butler, senior pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church -- an African-American congregation located about a mile from the July 8 protest and shootings -- gave perspectives from the badge and the Bible on KERA's hour-long THINK talk show July 11.

Asked if Dallas has a race problem, Mata took time to explain it's not specific to just Dallas, but that every city does.

"Every person has something in them that is biased toward another person," said Mata, admitting there is racism in the police profession.

"We're humans," he said, noting there is racism in other professions, too. "In any hi-rise downtown, there is racism on every single floor."

Rev. Butler agreed with Mata: "We all bring biases to the table" and we need to be honest about them or we will "get the tragedies and the issues that continue to perpetuate in our society."

Racial reconciliation is not exclusively a "Black matter," but it is a "human issue," Butler said, adding that differing ethnicities need to "partner and team-up at every opportunity to walk hand-in-hand."

"When we are not intentional about coming together, then the unintentional consequence is that we stay divided," Butler said.

Following the Baltimore riots of last year, Butler said God led him to call Andy Stoker, the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Dallas to co-convene a clergy prayer meeting for racial reconciliation.

"We have to be intentional and conscious about making a paradigm shift and change," Butler said. "And I think it starts in some of the places that are most sacred and most important to us -- like housing, where we live, and even where we worship. It is easy and very comfortable for us to go to our segregated neighborhoods and live in peace and not expose ourselves to others who may not look like us and even think like us. And therefore I think we rob ourselves of the blessing of diversity that I think our Creator provided for us as a community. I think it's a clarion call for us as a faith community to respond."

Butler suggested that pastors of differing ethnicities should swap pulpits and preach in each other's churches occasionally as community examples of inter-racial acceptance.

Grateful for many colleagues from the trans-denominational faith community in Dallas, Butler said this is not an issue of "analytics," but one of "heart and faith."

"When we realize the only difference is the color of our skin, and realize what we really do have in common is that we all bleed. And our blood is the same color," Butler said. "What that suggests is ... Black folk are not just my people. White folk are my people. Asians are my people. People are my people."

MULTI-COLORED BIAS

It's not only about skin color. It's also about the color blue.

Mata recalled days past when citizens would rush to help the police.

"But what happens now is we have citizens that are more engaged in getting that 10-second video to throw on Facebook. And they're hoping, they're wishing, that it becomes a violent encounter so their video goes viral," Mata said. "We have a society problem."

Though Mata mentioned some upsides to Facebook, conversely he said many would agree "Facebook is the devil ... We are seeing way more negativity on social media than positivity, and it's sad."

"Violence is not supposed to look good," Mata said of violent videos. "There is nothing pretty about violence. It's a form of intimidation. Any shooting, any shooting is a horrible waste of life. And there's nothing pretty about a shooting either. So, any time you look at it, it looks horrible."

"You cannot look at a 10- 20-second video clip and say 'that is a crime,'" Mata continued, noting that a video snippet does not meet what "we call and what the court system calls the totality of the circumstances."

Mata said a suspect's "cooperation and compliance" would prevent many police encounters that turn violent "because you cannot argue the arrest, sometimes, in the street. That's not the place to argue it."

Both parties must "be willing to de-escalate a situation. It doesn't work with just one person." In that situation, "no matter what you say, you cannot convince somebody to put handcuffs on."

For police who handle a variety of issues, including drug addiction and mental health, Mata said it gets dicey because police requires all suspects be handcuffed while being transported.

In handling some of the population, Mata insists the government has failed medical and mental health professionals, who have in turn failed their patients. "And all of them have failed the police in this nation because you have put so much responsibility on somebody who is not a doctor," he said.

Yet those police who regularly deal with members of the community who suffer from mental illness are "making physician decisions," Mata continued. "So, it's a no-win for us. And a lot of those situations escalate into use of force, and, unfortunately, into deadly force. But those things don't get put on a 20-second video. And that's what the community doesn't understand. And that's why nobody wants to be a cop anymore."

When asked if he and his colleagues had an elevated sense of fear since the sniper attacks, Mata said, "Absolutely. I mean, come on. We just had five people shot dead in the street."

But every officer went to work the next day. "We were mourning. We were crying. We were hurting. But what did we do? We got out of bed, we put on that vest, put on the blue uniform, strapped on our boots, and we went back out to serve the community," Mata said.

"You didn't see us hate on them. You didn't hear us say 'Hell, no, we're not going back to serve the people that just murdered us.' No, because 99.9 percent of the community want us, needs us and appreciates us. But those aren't the ones that you hear. And that's what's killing the law enforcement community."

Mata said if his 12 year-old son ever asked if he can be a cop, "I will tell him, 'No.'"

Why?

"I do not want him to have to go through what I see officers going through today. He doesn't deserve it."

SOCIAL AND SPIRITUAL ANSWERS KEY

"Denial is what the problem is, Mata said. "Lack of communication is what the problem is. The citizens need to see what we're going through, and we, in turn, need to explain to the citizens what we do and why we do it. That's how you get rid of racism."

Mata encouraged citizens to take advantage of the "ride-along" programs that most police departments have so the community can get the best perspective of what police officers do on their respective shifts.

Mata said he doesn't regret his service "because in my 22 years, I have done a lot of good in this city. And if I die tomorrow, I can look into the face of Jesus Christ ... and say that I left this world better than when I came into it. I saved lives."

"The broad paint brush we are painting our profession with has got to stop," Mata said.

THE ROLE OF FORGIVENESS IN TRAGEDY

Rev. Butler called for forgiveness, saying it plays a role in the tragedy and is appropriate.

"When Jesus was on the cross, there was a thief next to Him whose life was committed to crime and doing wrong, and Jesus offered the Kingdom to him ... But he sought forgiveness, and I think that is an important point," Butler said. "It is not the enemy, but the inner-me that keeps us from being all that God has called us to be."

"If we don't forgive, we allow people power over us that they don't deserve." Similarly, the sniper Micah Johnson "doesn't deserve the kind of power" in radio air time given to him.

Forgiveness does not negate accountability, Butler added. "Many people are trying to push for a justice system that addresses those inconsistencies and those wrongs."

"Millennials at our church say they want to do more things that bring us together and not divide us."

Butler said Dallas is a leader in job growth and other areas of business. "But now we have an opportunity to lead our nation in this area called racial reconciliation."

"The Bible says that what some intended for evil God used for good," he added. "And I believe that God is going to use this for our good, and we're going to be a better people, we're going to be a better family and a better community as a result of this tragedy."