Chaos and Justice

My run last night was altered by gunshots.

That’s called a hook. That’s what I use to keep you reading the less interesting material to get to that story. Hopefully it's enough to keep you hanging with me.

I enjoy running through the city, even at night.

Especially at night.

I’ve never felt fear out late but, then again, I usually don’t run where I shouldn’t be. I stick to major roads and I'm always aware of my surroundings. That awareness keeps me jumpy though: one day I was running downtown (in broad daylight) and someone surprised me by grabbing my arm. It was an old friend. I started to throw a punch but halted when I recognized them.

But being aware isn’t just for my own protection. It draws me closer to my city. I’ve given directions to countless numbers of people. Twice I've changed the tires of ladies unable to do so themselves. One of the reasons I’ve learned to love running is it allows me to see the beauty of this place. You see things differently when you traverse the sidewalks.

Last night was the first time I ran an old route since we moved to the new house. Our street is much quieter than the bustle of our previous place, which was located on a main drag. I’m still in the habit of watching cars for potential drug deals but I’m constantly relieved when I realize it's just people hauling groceries out of their trunks.

Heroine dealers don't use large Kroger bags.

Even though we moved just blocks away, it the side street moves a little slower. Still, as I ran toward a car on the side of the road with the hood up, I immediately thought it was dealing. In the dark, I noticed a couple of people mulling around the vehicle so I reactively clenched my fists. When I was finally next to the car, I discovered the scene was truly innocuous: the car was broken down. Those were older kids waiting impatiently outside. I asked if I could help and they said a tow truck was on the way. We had a brief conversation and I continued on.

For the next mile, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself for being so suspicious. I was guilty of the same paranoia I often mock. With this situation fresh in my mind, I saw a figure moving briskly down the sidewalk toward me. He was walking erratically so my instincts caused me to tense up. Then I noticed he was walking AT me and trying to get my attention. I’ve had this happen many times before; you’d be surprised how many times I get asked for bus money when I’m running. But as this guy motioned at me so intensely and continuously that I stopped. I took out my earbuds and it was then that I could understand the reason for his urgency.

“You need to turn around! They’re shooting up there!”

It took me a second to process what he was saying.

I then glanced at the other side of the street to see quite a few people running away from the scene—not participants, mind you—bystanders seeking safety. Although I don’t fear walking these streets, and have run by this place dozens of times, I don’t go searching for danger. I took the man’s advice. As we moved swiftly down the street, away from the area, we started talking.

“I’m kind of mad,” I said. “I’ve never had to change my path because of gunshots.”

“I have,” he admitted. “Lots of times. It gets crazy in the summer.”

I thanked the man for looking out for me and took a longer way home.

Now I want to make a transition here that could be perceived as forced, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about throughout the summer.

I love my community because of its diversity; it’s home to a spectrum of people along the racial, economic, and ideological scale. Living here either solidifies your prejudices or expands your tolerance. The more you rub shoulders with others different than you, the more you appreciate the unique challenges that each of us face.

This summer, the topic of race continues to be thrust to the forefront of the American psyche. What happened in Ferguson continues to pulse through situations like Charleston and last week in Houston and even what happened this week here in Cincinnati.* The Charleston situation excluded, many of the recent race stories intersect with law enforcement. Unfortunately, these incidents are most polarizing; they solidify prejudices. It's as if we question why these things happen, we’re attacking law enforcement. Hence . . .

“If they had just obeyed the law, they wouldn’t be dead."

Look, I have friends that serve and protect. They’re some of the finest people I know. Some are white, some are black. But when we dismiss these situation as mere issues of law and order, we’re guilty of over-simplifying this issue. It’s about much more than just obeying a police officer.

You see, even though we’ve made major advancements in race relations over the past couple decades, we’re just not there yet. Nor should we expect to be there yet, as one of the largest sins of our fathers was the economic handcuffing of the African American community. Crime will always follow poverty. So don’t pay sole attention to the fruit of the tree when it’s an orchard planted by the the white affluent.

Which is chaos and which is justice? Sometimes it's difficult to tell.

Hear me, friends: just because people cry out for justice doesn’t mean they're endorsing chaos.

There are systemic issues behind all of this. And if you can’t see that, you’re just solidifying prejudices.

This morning's news didn't report on the shooting I apparently narrowly avoided last night. Either no one got hurt or, if they did, they didn't go to the hospital. Too often, when someone sees one of these reports, they chalk it up to more of the same in a ghetto neighborhood. But what's never reported is the kindness of people like the African American man who thought enough of a skinny white guy to warn him of the danger just ahead.

I’m thankful he wasn’t apprehensive of me.

"But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Amos 5:24

------------ *By the way, the shooting in Cincinnati this week was predicated by a traffic stop made for a missing front license plate. I’ve been driving without my front plate on the same streets for five years now and have never been pulled over.