Ferguson and Baltimore: Lessons on Respect

Baltimore was in chaos. Earlier this week, hundreds of people set fires, looted stores and confronted police. The disorder was triggered by the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. Thousands of troops and outside police have now been deployed, a weeklong curfew has been announced, and many schools and businesses have closed.

I wonder if the actions of the violent protesters will give them what they want? Will burning property and hurting police officers really give them justice? Value? Respect? Will the good people of Baltimore be able to thrive with a new, gentle police force, with a tranquil atmosphere throughout the community after this? Will the houses of worship, businesses, educators and government employees be able to enjoy a peaceful and quiet life as a result? Will more people prosper?

When I was 11 years old I watched Detroit burn. People burned businesses, cars, and neighborhoods. As my family watched 2,000 buildings burn on our little black and white TV, I remember my Dad saying that good people would move away from Detroit, the city would steadily decline and find itself in at least 50 years of poverty. Now it is fifty years later, and we regularly hear about the deprivation that plagues Detroit.

My observation is Ferguson made the same mistake. As I watched them destroying their own neighborhoods, I thought that all the wrong people were in charge. The good people were silenced, and my guess is responsible family and business leaders were quietly thinking about where they could relocate sometime in the next couple of years that would be a better environment.

Methodology matters. We do know how to improve the world. In our lifetimes we’ve watch the impact of Gandhi, King, Mandela, and many others take horrific situations and give future generations an opportunity to improve their lives. I’ve listed three things that might help.

  1. Value Relationships.

Relationships, civil government, and healthy community environments all seem to have some fundamental laws that are universal. History has proven we human beings can create a civil society when we are trustworthy and respectful of others, and when we seek to mutually benefit one another. As a Christian, I believe biblical love means living for the good of the other. In secular terms, when all of us treat each other respectfully and provide goods and services that benefit others, everyone can be better off.

I am persuaded that when we all think in terms of serving one another and using our strengths to improve our own lives and the lives of others, that our communities can be healthy.

  1. Use Chain-Of-Command Wisely.

In order to understand our roles, we have developed chain-of-command structures. When relationships are respectful, chain-of-command is helpful and efficient. When relationships are disrespectful, chain-of-command can be dehumanizing, hateful, and harsh.

When relationships break down, people typically resort to chain-of-command authority to bring order. When command authority is not lubricated with considerate relationships, disorder is looming, and the use of power is likely. We see this in families, businesses, and communities. If there are not cooperative relationships within our chain-of-command structures to get work done and maintain order, resentment starts to replace happiness. All governments, workplaces, homes and places of worship have to understand chain-of-command in order to define roles and maintain order. And when positive relationships fuel chain-of-command structures with those in charge caring and subordinates cooperating, people feel respected and satisfied.

  1. Understand the Purpose of Brute Force.

But when chain-of-command becomes ineffective, someone will use brute force. Obviously, we prefer those in charge to be just and fair, and those under their authority to be respectful and cooperative. However, when those attributes are not present, some type of force is typically used to bring order. It’s not surprising to me to see a police officer respond with excessive force when a citizen disrespects them, disregards their orders and flees. It’s not right, but it is predictable.

Throughout time, we can observe this progressive series of responses in families, communities, companies, and even international relations. I believe we are all created to be in healthy, respectful relationships. When our relationships need order, we depend on chain-of-command. When chain-of-command is disrespected or needs enforcement, or subordinates need protection, we use force.

Yesterday President Obama responded to Baltimore’s chaos by saying, “That is not a protest. That is not a statement. It’s a handful of people taking advantage of the situation for their own purposes, and they need to be treated as criminals.” Gov. Larry Hogan told reporters, “What happened last night is not going to happen again.” Predictably, disorder was followed by an overwhelming police force, which may be followed by the exodus of good people out of the area and years of disadvantage. I don’t think that is what Baltimore wants.

Today, Baltimore’s citizens have an opportunity to build respectful relationships through their cooperation. And Baltimore’s leadership has an opportunity to facilitate a civil community by serving with empathy and fairness.

Manners matter. If we want respectful relationships, we need to thoughtfully invest in the elements that will create them.

We do have a choice.

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15 thoughts on “Ferguson and Baltimore: Lessons on Respect

  1. ilda Barker says:

    Maybe American police needs to go to school in London. Scottland Yard has a good program, you may solve the problem. Their tactic with the people has never gone to such horrific excess. The situation will get far worse unless the change of police tactic changes.

  2. Tom V says:

    Pastor, I disagree with one point. “It’s not surprising to me to see a police officer respond with force when a citizen disrespects them, disregards their orders and flees. It’s not right, but it is predictable.”

    It is right for police to respond with force if their orders are disobeyed and they flee. I say yes. Should they shoot them in the back? No. Can they tackle them to the ground, and Taser them if they continue to resist? Yes

  3. Russell Tennant says:

    Great post pastor Ted. However you almost sound like a single voice “crying in the wilderness.” We need to hear this from our (spiritual) leaders across the nation and in our home churches. Love your statement about Biblical love. I’ve heard you say this before but hearing it today, I’ve realize God is working that very principal in my life.

  4. The only comment I have is regarding your open paragraph where you say, and I quote The disorder was triggered by the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police.” It has not yet been shown that it was caused by the police. In fact it has been reported that he injured himself in the back of the van. The driver had to stop a couple of times to keep him from hurting himself to no avail. Even another prisoner in the van said this.
    Other than that comment it was a good article.

    • I hear you Ernie, and I think everyone is looking forward to the upcoming trials to see what comes out in court. I did struggle with this wording not knowing who was responsible or what happened, but knowing that he was in custody. I we edit this to say, “in custody” so it has no implications in any direction until after the trial. Thank you for writing.

  5. Gale Baughman says:

    Thank you for your input, I enjoy hearing your thoughts.

  6. Steve says:

    The discussion needs to be not about how horrible it is for people to burn down their own neighborhoods but rather why people are willing to do the same. Calling them criminals does nothing to explain why they’re criminals and how we arrived at such a state.

    • This is an endless discussion that I think misses the mark. Some say poverty, but I know poor people that don’t do what they did. Some say drugs. Well, if a person chooses to take drugs, the results are predictable and I don’t know of any resources that can protect people from the consequences of that choice. Some say it’s unemployment. Well, I don’t know anyone who is competent, respectful, skilled, and responsible who don’t have a plethora of employment opportunities. Others say it’s eduction. Some of the greatest achievers in the world came from inferior schools with inadequate teachers, found a way to learn and became great people. Bottom line, explanations sometimes evolve into excuses that people can use to blame others for their own bad choices. Once that’s done, blaming makes them powerless and all there is left to do is burn down someone else’s property. The quickest and most powerful solution is for people to see a problem and fix it in themselves, then help others do the same.

  7. Val says:

    “It’s not surprising to me to see a police officer respond with excessive force when a citizen disrespects them…”
    I’ll say, it is also not surprising to see citizens revolt with excessive violence either when police officers murder their unarmed victims and then they lie they were attacked by the victims (thank God for iPhones and camcorders that prove the contrary). Most everyone (especially conservatives) talks about the lack of respect FOR those in authority; I say, these days, we should also talk about the lack of respect BY those in authority towards citizens and for their own positions of trust to which they have been appointed/elected to serve (they often behave disgracefully and abusively, which is most often the cause for the drop in respect for those in authority by ordinary citizens). I’d say the police officers are equally responsible for the damages in these riots and even for the death of some of their own colleagues–some other officers really provoked the crowds by murdering the “criminals” (not all transgressors are criminals) instead of bringing them to justice. In a society with justice for all, we need to say it out loud that the officers (if they can be called that) who murder unarmed victims are not less guilty than the citizens (if they can called that) who murder police officers.

    • I think everyone is responsible for what they do and say, and though we as a culture have accepted that one person may do something in response to another, each of us has the power to decide how we will respond to the other. The police are responsible for what they do and say, and the rioters are responsible for what they do and say. So the police have to be held accountable for excessive force, and the rioters are responsible for burning buildings, cars, etc. To confuse this is an endless cycle that facilitates blame, and when we blame another for the negative things we do, we are saying we are powerless over ourselves and that those we are blaming are actually determining our actions. It’s just not true. I think we need to be careful or no one would ever be responsible for their own actions.

      • Val says:

        True, but you seemed to have excused the use of excessive force by police due to the actions of others, so my point was that what is good for the goose is good for the gender.

  8. Jo says:

    I just came across this blog and was interested in the Ferguson discussion. I live just a few minutes from the rioting area, I still shop and dine there, and for 10 years I drove that same street twice a day, 5 days a week. No problem. I find it interesting that people think they “know” what happened–not jut on this blog but in lots of blogs, commentaries, etc. I am white; my best friend in this entire county is African American. Be careful about saying what you think you “know” about Ferguson or any other similar situation.

  9. Andrew Weeks says:

    This is the biblical research that is so necessary to have a clear understanding of Christian faith.Working in a diverse work environment often calls for deeper understanding of religion and theology. The collision is larger than life when on Christmas Eve your colleagues are celebrating a Muslim holy day and leave work in their robes of religious freedom and nominal Christians left working . In the manger baby jesus spoke, they would whisper. Understanding this is a different narrative has given me a certainty of the nativity of Christ at His birth. Oh Holy Night…. with convincing angels , Jesus Christ at His birth.

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