“Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.” (Martin Luther King)
June 30, 2019: “Today was a difficult day. We witnessed the legitimate rage of a community pour into the streets like a volcanic eruption. Whereas Ethiopian Israelis are typically humble, meek, and compliant, the undeserved death of 19 year Solomon Tekka, was the straw that broke the “camel’s back,” driving thousands of Ethio-Israelis to violently demonstrate and block major roads. Their passionate outcry was incited by the unfairness of the tragic loss of yet another promising son of the community.”
And this undeserved death was not an isolated occurrence. Just this last January, an Ethiopian-Israeli mother had called the police on her son who was showing mental instability. She wanted him to be taken to the hospital. Instead, when the police came, the event quickly turned into a shooting scene. The reports said that the police somehow felt threatened by this young man, causing them to pull guns and shoot at him from a distance, which resulted in his death. And now barely six months later, young Solomon Teka was killed by a police gun shot.
Even though the relationship between the police and the Ethiopian-Israeli community has been somewhat tense for years now, this last event brought the crisis to new proportions.
Being a police officer is a noble job and not an easy one. It requires a life dedicated to the well-being of others and at times disregarding one’s own safety. We need to honor the police in their spirit of service. It is also our duty as good citizens to uphold the police in our prayers.
However, what we witnessed in the recent incident was a different spirit. Solomon Teka was at a public park with a group of friends who later reported that a dispute began between an off-duty police officer and a young man from the group. Solomon, in defense of his friend, joined the interaction. Very quickly, the police officer pulled out a gun while Solomon began throwing stones trying to protect himself and his friends. And then the story gets blurry as there are numerous versions of what actually happened. The end result was Solomon’s death. He was unarmed.
In recent years, 11 Ethiopian-Israeli young men have been killed at the hands of police! In all these cases, the police presented justification and defended their actions saying that they felt threatened. The chief of police added unhelpful words regarding the Ethiopian victims, saying that “…it’s only natural that they arouse suspicion,” thus pushing further away any attempt to bridge the gap.
Members of the Ethiopian- Israel community, of course, beg to differ. They contend that their young men are being unfairly handled and targeted. In their assessment, having dark skin and being male are what constitute the threat.
There is now a wide breach between the police officials and the Ethiopian Israeli community.
The Bible states that just as the leopard cannot change its spots, so the Ethiopians cannot change their skin tone (Jeremiah 13:23). There are things that cannot be changed, and in contrast, there are things that can and must change. Differences and diversity in culture and demeanor can’t and don’t need to change. However our ethics of prejudicial distinctions and plurality can and should be evaluated for change. If not, the gap will continue to grow as well as the incidences of violence and destruction.
Some people might think that here in the Holy Land we don’t suffer from the global epidemic of racism. I wish I could say that was true, but this problem of race and inequality is ancient. As people who believe in a Loving Creator, it is our mandate to honor and love those different from us. In the words of King Solomon, the first of the six traits that God hates is “a proud look…” (Proverbs 6:17). That is a fitting description of racism. God hates racism!
Even though political correctness may have changed the way people talk, people’s hearts still need to change through God’s intervention. A “proud look” is rooted in an insecure heart, which puts another down to justify some sense of false superiority.
The truth is that our self-value doesn’t come from the inferiority of others but rather from how God measures our worth. Until we come to that transforming encounter of God’s-esteem for us we cannot accurately view one another.
When the first sin occurred, God asked “Where are you?” When the second sinned occurred, God asked “Where is…your brother?” If we can’t see ourselves in God’s mirror, we will despise our kinsmen just like Cain did. This deep-rooted hatred eventually led him to kill his own brother.
May God use us to bring a message of redemption and social transformation! It is our prayer that God would bring a change of approach in the government and police force, that a God-inspired leadership would arise amongst the Ethiopian-Israelis, and that there would be unity amongst God’s people to be salt and light in this dark season. May God use us to bring a message of redemption and social transformation!