Last week the quiet suburb of Hunt Valley, MD was disturbed by a man wielding a knife and stabbing five people. Police quickly responded to the scene, encircled the man, and ended the standoff with him being shot to death. Thankfully none of the victims had life threatening injuries but the scar of trauma remained on the community. Incidents like these shouldn’t happen in places like this.
It was clear to me that what transpired was terrifying and that the man’s actions were wrong. But I was troubled with a lingering question that I silently weighed: Did he have to be killed?
He was potentially troubled in the mind or under the influence of some substance. Was it possible to end this situation without ending the man’s life?
I felt like I was the only person asking this question because everyone else seemed relieved that they “got him”. (Though the most accurate word would be they killed him) What act justifies the taking of a soul? The responses to this incident indicated that invading the safety of a community, injuring innocent people, and walking away from law enforcement was enough to justify death.
This week a woman was found guilty for entering a young man’s home, shooting him in the chest, and ending his life. Many people throughout the country were asking the same questions that people in Hunt Valley, MD asked: who has the right to violate someone’s space and traumatize an innocent person? Surely someone who commits such an act deserves the consequences that follow. That would be just.
Instead the nation witnessed an unfathomable act when a young man forgave the woman who murdered his brother. Such forgiveness is powerful and beyond comprehension. Many people felt this power when they witnessed this act of forgiveness. And many others felt the strong angst of injustice. Both feelings are valid.
Justice and forgiveness are two different entities that can coexist but accomplish different goals. It’s likely that the victim’s brother would have extended forgiveness even if the sentence was much longer. Forgiveness is powerful but it doesn’t absolve the need for justice.
There is a persistent injustice underlying this event. People are anxious for justice to declare, uphold and validate the value of a black person’s soul. There have been incidents where a black man was killed because of his actions (ex. knife wielding man) and in this incident an innocent black man was killed. What acts justify the taking of his soul and what punishment is adequate for the murder of his soul? Often the analysis of these situations exclude the consideration of the worth of a black person’s soul. The silent response to these questions give way to the pervasive echo heard for many generations: there is no value.
Those who follow Jesus believe that we have been forgiven for our sins but the wages of sin still had to be paid. Our world needs both forgiveness and justice. Justice seems to be more elusive to attain.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” -Micah 6:8