Christian Living

Naiveté, Nuance, and Narratives: Grieving Tyre King

Taelor Gray

I woke up the morning of Sept. 14 to a text that a 13 year old boy was shot dead by police in my city. Considering that there is so much to process within the short statement: “a 13 year old boy shot dead by police,” I thought it human to give it a moment to sink in.

Before scouring the deluge of the political commentary and the public opinion cycle (eg. social media), I laid my head back on the bed and let my heart beat faster and faster. The backdrop of my 2-year-old son playing on the bed with his Elmo’s World game app slowly became drowned out by my own thoughts, which echoed: “It finally happened in my city.”

No doubt many teens have likely been shot by police in the city of Columbus over the course of my 32 years in the city, but this was the first time this type of event happened at this time.

I don’t think I need to make the case that race relations are tense in the United States. Whether it’s the particulars of the Colin Kaepernick protest or the newest recap of Donald Trump quotables, it’s almost a daily reminder that racism is the hot button issue of the times.

The hashtag becomes a gateway to a level of dialogue that walks the line of both polite and perverse. There were agendas being crafted and hot takes regarding Tyre King’s death before the Columbus mayor and police chief were even able to have breakfast. In the aftermath of the hotly debated national issue of police and excessive force, we have another death before us…this time right near the heart of my hometown.

As I write these words, details are still unfolding and investigation results are still pending. However, I can’t help but observe how the narrative is already being decided. Whether it’s “another (relatively) unarmed black kid gunned down by the police” or “stupid thug robber pulls a BB gun on a cop and gets what he deserved,” there is a serious lack of humanity in considering the grieving process due to the actual loss of a young life.

While everyone rushes to thrust Tyre King into the national spotlight for the sake of a national critique, his family and immediate community has to grieve the loss of a child. I’m left to pick up pieces thinking through how the very same police department that polices my own neighborhood risks being demonized as a whole. Apparently, we’re at the point in the social discussion where total character assassination and institutional deconstruction can happen in less than 24 hours.

When It Hits Home
I offer some of my own reflections as contributions to reflect on larger solutions. I do not know Tyre King or his family, but his death and immediate circumstances have personal implications for me.

This year, my wife and I decided to move into an inner city community in Columbus. While the community we live in is 90-95% black, it occupies a very small percentage of nuclear families. We made a decision as a family to be missional in our housing choice, if for no other reason but to be an example of a husband-wife-child dynamic to the community around us.

Still, I find myself often wondering about the safety of my own son. I’m not only speaking to the fear of his encounter with police as a black boy, I’m speaking to our missional involvement in the community. Our family cannot, will not suffer missional integrity and remain locked away in our houses all day everyday.

Our son will interact with children with varying family dynamics. He may make friends with kids from adverse circumstances and ask to hang with them. I wonder what scenarios those potential relationships will expose him to, and if the police are looking for 3 suspects in a community where crime is prevalent—what are the chances he will fit the description? What if he makes a bad choice one night under bad influences?

Blame Game
Our home-family environment will be a place of intentional discipleship and Biblical instruction, but a split-second association made from his surroundings doesn’t take that into account. I remember times as a young kid where I found myself in situations that looked like the total opposite from my upbringing. The difference now is that I wonder whether instead of jail time, it will mean I could be grieving a lost child.

One of the more disturbing narratives that often gains is, “I blame the parents for letting a 13-year-old commit armed robbery with a BB gun.” Such commentary displays a profoundly naive view of family and parenting in these communities. The sorrow and grief you see displayed on television from the families of the victims is real. It doesn’t speak to irresponsible parenting or a lack of love. It’s a wonder how people would have the audacity to indict and criminalize the deceased without “having the facts” about the family’s values and communal closeness.

Additionally, I value the sacrifice and commitment of the Columbus Police Department. Despite our nation’s checkered history of conflict between the black community and law enforcement, I believe the vast majority of police officers are dedicated to faithful service.

All this being said, the skepticism and distrust from the black community is warranted. The on-camera incidents where unarmed black victims are killed by police officers for minor offenses are still impactful images that affect our view of how credible police testimony can be. The Tamir Rice verdict is still fresh in my mind as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice I can remember.

Amidst all the heightened tension and nationwide attention, as a Christian in Columbus, OH, I’m committed to the following actions:

  1. Continued Prayer. While I can envision the eye-rolls and the likelihood that most readers would skip this point, I’m convinced that our prayer lives are not as robust as we would have society believe.The attitude that says “prayer is not good enough” gives the impression that individuals are spending significant amounts of time truly laboring in prayer over these issues; interestingly, it’s a common occurrence to hear the average Christian lament over their inconsistent prayer life.When events like this happen, there is often an angry reaction to the moment that lacks eternal perspective and often exposes a compromised practice of fervently seeking the Lord. It’s okay to admit that, and truly commit to praying in a way that doesn’t allow reactionary response to overtake the need to first seek the Lord’s wisdom and counsel. If a tweet or hashtag is your first instinct, it could be symptomatic of a weak prayer life. Prayer has always endured through the worst of times.
  1. Improved Relations with Local Police. Over the past few months, I’ve found it refreshing to develop a practice of stopping police officers in the grocery store, while getting lunch, while leaving a social function to thank them for their service. It’s amazing to notice how much effort that actually takes. I’m not naturally inclined to thank someone for what could be designated as “reasonable service” activities, but the truth is that there are many cases where we genuinely feel safer as a society when there is a local police presence. It’s a worthy decision to not take this for granted.I’m committed to reducing the amount of social space between myself and officers to develop an appreciation and better sense of empathy for them. This doesn’t reduce or invalidate the truthful critiques of systemic problems, but it, at least, challenges the paradigm of the “us vs. them” dynamic.Fact is, I depend on them in my neighborhood, and I want to build more of a trust based on close proximity and relationship, rather than broad strokes stereotypes.
  2. Producing Gospel Fruit. To be ruled by anger, sorrow, and suspicion is not fruit borne from the gospel. We willfully place trust in Christ with the larger-than-life issues, producing love, joy, and peace despite circumstantial displays of man’s depravity.In this climate, I believe we must commit to confessing our tendency to inflate our own purposes above God’s. We must confess our tendency to finding identity in social dialogue, rather than finding refuge in the Word of God. We must confess our tendency to develop earth-borne prejudices that don’t so easily reflect a lavish distribution of the Imago Dei consideration toward one another.Sadly, calling people to reflect on this view of gospel fruit is often framed as passive and tone deaf. To be clear, I don’t advocate for a gospel that causes white folks to be relieved of acknowledging white privilege and social inequity in America. I don’t advocate for a gospel that allows black people to subtly champion black supremacy, while perpetuating victimhood.The gospel I advocate for pierces both sides of the argument, injuring us so deeply that we can only see our redemption in a sacrifice so perfect, its justice reaches heaven. The Jesus I preach carries the entirety of our sin, past and present, to the cross as an open display of triumph—a triumph that is present and eternal.Reflecting on this should produce compassion, humility, and the “quick to hear, slow to speak” approach that can only mark the household of faith. I pray we see more of this fruit as the sin of our nation persists.

3 thoughts on “Naiveté, Nuance, and Narratives: Grieving Tyre King

  1. Conrad Deitrick

    Thank you for this, Taelor.

  2. Tara

    Thank you. I live in Columbus, too. Your perspective is so helpful.

  3. William Leonhart

    Thank you for your perspective. I was especially edified by your commitment to be salt and light in your community, the intentionality of your mission, and your final three points. A truly wonderful read.

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