Is Eric Harris' shooting death about race or incompetence?

Race Issues
by Jarvis J. Williams

Posted on Tuesday, April 21, 2015, at 12:05 pm

Last Tuesday, Robert Bates, a 73-year-old white man who is a reserve deputy sheriff, turned himself in to law enforcement authorities in Tulsa, Okla. He is charged with second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Eric Harris, an unarmed black man. Bates claims he accidentally shot Harris during an undercover operation, thinking his gun was his Taser. 

To many African-Americans, Harris’ death is another violent episode in an American narrative of white cops versus black men. But some reports suggest Bates shot and killed Harris because of incompetence. Bates initially claimed in a statement to authorities he received “active shooter response training” through the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona. But Lisa Allen, the agency’s chief media relations officer, told the Tulsa World her office had no record of any such training. 

But Bates insisted in his statement to Tulsa County investigators he was trained in Arizona and also attended a homicide investigation school for five days in Dallas. He further defended his training in an interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today show Friday.

Even though the accused is an armed white cop and the victim is an unarmed black man, we should be cautious and not jump to conclusions too quickly while we wait for the evaluation of all the evidence. If the above information is correct, Bates had inadequate training, and Harris’ shooting death was due in part to Bates’ incompetence. But even if skin color was not a factor in the shooting, sin and race are certainly to blame. 

Sin entered the world through the transgression of Adam and Eve, and this transgression introduced a universal curse upon all of creation (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 5:12), shattering human relationships. This alienation is illustrated in the Genesis narrative through Cain’s violent murder of his brother Abel immediately after sin entered the world (Genesis 4:1-11). Division amongst the members of the human race is present today, regardless of skin color, because of the universal power of sin. This division sometimes reveals itself through crime, but it is always revealed through death (Romans 5:12). 

Bates and Harris are connected (as we all are) through Adam (the first man), alienating them from God and from each other because of their participation in Adam’s transgression (Romans 3:23). But sin does not have the final word. The gospel promises to reconcile and unify all things in Jesus Christ, including members of all races who have faith in Christ, through His death and resurrection (Romans 3:21-5:21, 8:18-25; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Ephesians 1:9-11, 2:11-3:13; Colossians 1:20). Sin kills, but the gospel of Jesus Christ gives life (Romans 6:23)!

Jarvis J. Williams

Jarvis is associate professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and the author of Christ Died for Our Sins: Representation and Substitution in Romans and Their Jewish Martyrological Background. Follow him on Twitter @drjjwilliams.

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