Don’t Shoot: Plea for Mercy or Prophetic Warning?

Howard University Student Association

Howard University Student Association

By James Howard Hill, Jr.
Guest Commentary

Millions of hands are being raised in America, but not in surrender.

Since the murder of 18 year old Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, thousands of people from all walks of life have been photographed lifting their hands in a sign of solidarity. From elderly church deacons to college students replete with youthful zeal, images from all over can be found of Americans embodying the same message – don’t shoot. Having captured the imagination of the country, it is imperative now that we, the custodians of the movement, image forth a unified narrative of purpose that rightly articulates the ethos of our message. Though “Don’t Shoot” has been codified by many as a hapless cry for mercy, it must be re-codified as a prophetic call to repentance and renewal.

Only a prophetic movement rooted in confidence can heal the wounds of a nation teeming with the agony of injustice. No movement rooted in terror ever produced lasting change. While trepidation may govern the affairs of many, we must not accept it as the impetus for our movement. Instead, our drive must be rooted in discontent and forged by justice. The impetus for this movement must be Trayvon Martin. The impetus for this movement must be Aiyana Ford. The impetus for this movement must be Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, and Michael Brown. The impetus for this movement must be the unjustified loss of all black life and the demand for truth.

Moreover, those of us who have participated in peaceful demonstrations across America must be acutely aware of the historic significance of our cry. Those who dare shout “Don’t Shoot” in the face of unfettered police brutality must be keenly aware of History’s current dictation of our every step. Little do we know that our resilience and boldness in the face of injustice is being archived for a generation yet unborn. This reality must be the gravitas that governs all of our efforts.

The prophetic spirit which currently blankets our campaign is not only historic, but also has origins in the traditions of many religious movements. Arguably, every major world religion speaks with prophetic clarity regarding the shedding of innocent blood. In these traditions, violence is not only regarded as the lowest common denominator of sin but also as one of the most opulent signs of depravity. We, being viscerally aware of such depravity, must prophetically stand in the gap for our nation, imploring its citizens to condemn the root causes of this current aggression in order that we may cultivate a genuine spirit of unity and solidarity. However, if America is opposed to the idea of dealing with the root causes of its aggression and is equally reluctant to toil towards the cultivation of harmony and camaraderie, then, tragically, we will discover that our nation has already succumbed to a crippling paralysis of conscience formed by a criminal lack of empathy. In many ways, prophecy exists where empathy does not.

As a result of this lack of corporate empathy, America has found itself, once again, wedged within an impasse of social hostility that policy reform, alone, will not solve. In what can only be regarded as a Sovereign act of Grace, it appears that God, Himself, has given America yet another opportunity through this campaign of conscience to be enraptured within the prophetic spirit of repentance and renewal. If true solidarity is to be obtained, all paths rooted in pride and sectarianism must be rendered obsolete.

Make no mistake about it; “Don’t Shoot” is not a plea for pity whimpered by a wild herd seeking mercy. Instead, it is a prophetic petition that offers atonement to a nation in dire need of redemption.

For the sake of the future of our country, I pray we all heed the warning.

James Howard Hill, Jr. is currently pursuing his Masters of Divinity at SMU’s Perkins Theological Seminary. He currently serves as the Pastor of Youth and Young Adults at Joy Tabernacle AME under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Michael Waters. He can be reached via Twitter @j_hilljr. is a cutting-edge online magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness. The site offers a platform for young adult perspectives, profiles inspirational visionaries and artists, and serves as an online community for change agents who are like-minded. Founded in 2011 by Rahiel Tesfamariam, Urban Cusp highlights voices, ideas and images not commonly found within mainstream media.

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