Common Ground Northeast is a church who intends to pursue justice according to the scriptural mandate to honor all people as image bearers of God (Gen. 1:26), to be ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:11-21), and to be a voice for the voiceless (Prov. 31:8-10). When we see moments of social inequity, we must step in, raise our voices, and point it out to represent the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.
A few weeks ago, IMPD Officer Robert Lawson was charged in response to a physical engagement that occurred between himself and a 17-year-old student on campus at Shortridge High School. Videos have circulated online and multiple news outlets have covered the incident as more information has come to light (see WTHR article here). As law enforcement officials have tried to understand the situation, the context of the incident, and video/eyewitness accounts, they have reported that it is clear there are discrepancies between the officers account and the information collected. While the officer has been put on unpaid administrative leave as the facts involving the altercation are being sorted (through an internal investigation), some of the dynamics must be weighed in light of the Gospel-driven justice.
There are two social and systemic dynamics that must be analyzed critically:
1. Overuse of force.
Officers are trained to de-escalate situations and to serve the public by maintaining social order in a professional manner. And, whether or not there was a need for the officer to engage the student, a close-fist punch was an overuse of force. A punch is not an effective means of restraint and the fact that the officer altered his description of the way he struck the student reveals that he knew it himself. Additionally, in determining the “level of threat” from the 17 year old student (who is clearly in a smaller weight-class than the officer), Lawson exaggerated the posture of the boy stating he, “balled his fists” which the videos reveal did not occur. This was clearly an overuse of force and the officer attempts to justify it.
As this story unfolds, we should be cognizant of the power dynamics involved, the systemic outworking of this situation, and who it tends to favor. Ultimately, officer Lawson’s actions were not reflective of his training or his position of authority and they should not go without consequences.
2. Blaming the victim.
At first glance, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, seems to take responsibility by stating “This in no way excuses what the officer is accused of doing, obviously…” Curry then adds, “…but our hope would be that adults could act like adults. She screamed. She yelled. She dropped f-bombs. She dropped MF-ers. We simply would hope that adults could act like adults. What happened here, this whole circumstance would have been avoided.”
By attempting to define how adults should “act” and weave together specific moments outside of the context in which they happened, Curry was framing the situation in such a way that placed blame for the “whole” incident on the students’ aunt instead of the officers obviously inappropriate actions. This statement was unwarranted and inappropriate; we should call for Prosecutor Curry to publicly apologize for covertly justifying the officers actions.
As a church family, Common Ground Northeast, we must follow the example of Christ who stepped into the difficult environments of injustice and speak for those who are being mistreated especially in our law systems. Jesus continually confronted the Pharisees, for their misuse of authority, when they tried to uphold an unjust system that benefitted them at the cost of others. We are responsible for holding our government and law-enforcement officials accountable for the decisions and actions they take so that all people are treated equitably and with dignity.
May we “do justice” together,
Pastor Erik Thien
Elders at Common Ground Northeast
As we come off the heels of our Reconcile Conference, this is a very direct way we can apply the things we’ve learned. Here are some ways you can take action:
Keep watching the story as it unfolds.
Email the Prosecutors office at email@example.com .
Call Prosecutor Terry Curry at (317) 327-3522
Share your thoughts or even this article on social media to spread the word.