Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mark 15:15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

Last night we experienced a miscarriage of justice in Memphis. A 19-year-old young man named Darrius Stewart was shot and killed in a routine traffic stop. A scuffle with Officer Schilling led to a young man shot to death on our youth campus. It took 101 days for The Bureau of Investigation to look into the fatal shooting. The DA recommended an indictment for Officer Schillings. In eight hours the grand jury decided there was not just cause for an indictment and would not pursue criminal charges. Darrius Stewart is dead and Officer Schilling walks away free.

Justice died and Barabbas walked away free. The unfortunate thing is that we don’t have all the facts from the report to make our own informed opinion on what happened but what I do have is the recommendation of the U.S. District Attorney that she found enough evidence to indict officer Schilling. Why did the Grand Jury release Officer Schilling? The same reason that that Pontious Pilate released Barabbas. It was political.

Pontious Pilate led a very turbulent city. There had been many insurrection attempts to try to oppose Roman occupation of Jerusalem. It was a tense environment between the common people and the Roman government. The last thing Pilate needed was a riot. The religious people who were jealous of Jesus wanted him dead. They persuaded the crowd to choose Barabbas over Jesus. Evidence would suggest that Jesus deserved to be free. The DA, Pilate found no reason to condemn Jesus to death. In fact he tried to wash his hands of his innocent blood but this is where he messed up! He gave into the pressure of the crowd that wanted innocent blood.

The criminal justice system did not work as it should have but it did work as it has been designed to. In Shelby County the criminal justice system has been designed to incarcerate masses of marginalized people of color without any intervention of people of position and power. We are releasing murders and imprisoning not violent offenders. Darrius Stewart fought back with handcuffs; officer Schilling had had a gun and a taser. He chose a gun.

We cannot sit back and let Barrabus go free and justice die on our watch. The clergy were called together by the DA to go tell the crowd to remain calm after the news of “no indictment.” Our voices will not be compromised. I can’t tell the crowd of disenfranchised people to keep quiet. I can’t tell mourning mothers not to be angry. We will not let an unarmed teen-ager be murdered by an overly aggressive officer die in vain bleeding in the grass on a youth church campus where he should have found salvation not death.

Yesterday the grand jury gave the “crowd” what they wanted. Somebody persuaded that jury to choose Barabbas. Somebody expedited the process of justice after it took 101 days just to look through the report. Here’s what we are not going to do in Memphis:

  1. The clergy will not be co-opted into complicity for injustice. What happened here was a miscarriage of justice and we are mad as hell! Gone are the days of Emitt Till’s murders given a swift trial only to be released after a teen-age boy is brutally murdered.
  2. We will not let Pilate was his hands as if he had no part in this. Pilate was even warned by his wife that Jesus was innocent. He gave in to the crowd. Out of 24 similar cases this is the first case that our DA has recommended to the grand jury. She wanted to wash her hands but it’s her heart I’m concerned about. If her heart truly thought this officer needed to be indicted then I need to see some indignation and further action. We need to call in the Department of Justice.
  3. We will push for criminal justice reform. Jesus should have been released. They had no evidence against him but Pilate gave the crowd what they wanted. Our criminal justice system in Shelby County is broken. A disproportionate amount of black juveniles are caught up in the system. We must look at the judicial process and the conditions of poverty that create a climate where the cycle of crime and hopelessness keep breeding itself.

Today in Memphis we have a choice. Do we stand up and demand for Justice to be set free or do we release murderers in this city? Do we give into a mob mentality that has been manipulated by people who have a vested interest in the status quo or do we yield to the radical liberating power of Jesus Christ who came to set the captives free, give sight to the blind? It’s time for criminal justice reform in Memphis. It’s time to stop playing church and trying to use preachers to keep the crowd complicit to injustice. We will not be coerced or bullied into telling our people to be quiet when they need to cry loud! Give us Justice!

Dear God,

My heart is heavy because justice did not happen for this young man and many like him. The hands of our elected officials are not cleansed from this blood. Don’t let us walk around with bloody hands. Open our hearts and our mouths. Give us the courage to cry loud and spare not. Help us to take this fight all the way to Caesar if we have to. Help us to fight for criminal justice reform in Shelby County and take new policies to the Capitol in Nashville. Let justice roll on like a river,

 And righteousness like a never-failing stream!

In Jesus Name,

Amen