When former officer Ben Fields threw an African American high school student to the ground over a non-violent classroom dispute, several commentators rushed to his defence, claiming that we don't know enough about the situation to pass judgment on Fields. Although legal experts were quick to counter the preposterous claim that disobedience in a high school classroom justifies violent force and arrest, Christians are called to a higher standard in the case of an injustice like this.
While we may only have a limited perspective on the incident itself, we don't have a limited perspective on the image of God, and every person on earth bears this image. Whether Christians oppose abortion, advocate for an end to military conflict, or support social justice efforts that help the homeless or enslaved, our starting point for all such advocacy is the image of God.
We all start with this foundational verse: "So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27).
Whether you are male or female, black or white, you have been created in the image of God. Disobedience to authorities, especially in a classroom setting where teachers and on-campus officers are supposed to have training in non-violent conflict resolution, is never justification for brutally dragging a student out of a desk and throwing her onto the floor.
Suggestions that we don't know enough or that the student got what she deserved aren't just invalid on legal grounds; they're invalid on theological grounds.
When we recite John 3:16, we would do well to remember that God so loved "the world." Each person is beloved by God and can receive God's salvation. Each person was worthy of Jesus sacrificing himself. We serve a merciful God who desires that none should perish, and yet some are quick to say that a victim of police brutality got what she deserved when the majority of legal experts are quick to say she clearly didn't.
Whether or not the student was talking back or refusing to obey the officer's commands, someone created in the image of God should not be abused and wrestled onto the ground over using a cell phone in class or being disruptive. She posed no threat whatsoever to the people around her.
In fact, the details that have emerged about the recent death of the student's mother only prompt us to consider, if anything, how we don't know enough about her side of the story.
There are no grounds for placing the blame for this violent incident on the student. She bears responsibility for her actions, but she does not bear responsibility for those who cannot respond appropriately. Every day in America high school students act out in class and refuse to obey teachers without being dragged from their desks and slammed onto the floor.
In my primarily white suburban high school, I remember one particular incident when a student refused to go to a math tutoring session. He curled up in the corner of the room in the fetal position and contradicted everything the teacher said. I suppose someone could have dragged him out of the room, but thankfully the professionally trained teachers resolved the situation without physical violence.
I'm not saying it was an easy situation to resolve. It's merely one of the thousands upon thousands of incidents that don't require attacking and then arresting disruptive students.
As Christians reflect on this particular Spring Valley High incident, social justice, or the sanctity of life, the starting point has to be the sacredness of life created in God's image. If we only speak of life being sacred within the womb and fail to discuss how a female African American teenager is equally as sacred and worthy of care, dignity, and respect, then we are limiting the scope and force of scripture.
For the second guessing commentators who say, "If only she hadn't disrupted the class, this never would have happened," we need to respond with: "If only Fields had treated this student as a beloved creation of God, this never would have happened."