We ran our errands Saturday morning, and as we drove through our neighborhood, I realized that Todd had been on a business trip and didn’t know the tragic events that happened in our corner of Greenville, midday Friday. Just a mile and a half from our house, Officer Allen Jacobs spotted 17 year old Deontea Mackey and pulled over to ask him about a gun he had been trying to buy. When Mackey gave chase, Officer Jacobs ran after him, until Mackey fatally shot him. A half mile away, practically in the backyard of my church, police closed in on Mackey. He called his mother and then turned the gun on himself.
“But why was the officer chasing him?” Todd asked.
“You don’t think they shouldn’t have chased him?” Was he serious? “Todd, the kid was in a gang, he had at least one gun and was trying to get another! He had already committed one robbery at gunpoint,” I barked.
“I haven’t heard the story, Beck,” Todd said. “That’s why I’m asking.”
I knew where Todd had been going with this and I had wondered it too when I heard the first details of what had happened. Was this one of those stories, yet again? A kid just trying to live a kid’s life, taken by the first hidden instincts of someone sworn to protect them? But I’d had time to hear more and this time the story hardened me. It called out something not so pretty within me.
“You know what? I don’t have one bit of pity for that kid. Officer Jacobs had two young boys and a daughter on the way. He went to work to do his job, and now he’s dead.”
We sat in silence in the car and I listened back to what I’d just said. Not one bit of pity.
Wow. Did I say that?
But it was hard to feel pity when I learned more about Officer Allen Jacobs. He played basketball on Friday nights with young men at Nicholtown’s community center, near the site where he was murdered. Some of my kids at church knew Officer Jacobs from his visits to Blythe Elementary. He had served in the military and was a model police officer in our community.
When I looked at Officer Jacob’s face on television, I thought of the officers I’ve gotten to know who serve at my church. Ever since we started to have random protesters show up, they’ve become part of our family. We love them. What if it had been one of them?
It was hard to feel pity for someone who caused such pain, who took away a father, a son, a husband, a friend.
As people of faith, what do we do with this?
In worship on Sunday, we were getting ready for Easter. After the children brought in the palms, we prayed, Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you. The lips that sing, “Hosanna!” are the same that shout “Crucify!”
This made me shiver in my pew. I do some Jesus talk. I talk here on my blog, I talk to the children, I talk faith to my family. I’m one to shout Hosanna! And then I have no pity.
Whatever you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done to me.
Does the least of these include 17 year old boys like Deontea?
Deontea Mackey killed Officer Jacobs. This can’t be softened away. It’s a grievous crime and leaves a family and community broken into pieces.
Deontea also killed himself, and he was our Sam’s age, 17. They went to the same high school until he dropped out a year ago. “I didn’t know him, Mom,” Sam says. But I wonder if I did, just a little, in a way.
My first year of teaching, we lived in Washington DC. I taught a quasi-chemistry class for kids who had failed all their science courses and needed a science class to graduate. Some of them were barely hanging on. They’d endured years of others not believing in them or assuming things about them that they had to work around. Many were alarmingly professional at measuring chemicals on a balance, and the police entered my classroom on at least two occasions, once because one of my students stole another’s car, and another for threatening another teacher, I believe. But I loved them.
They were complicated and young and on their own, so many of them, without the life skills or good judgement or people to guide them or affirm them or get a hold of them when they sorely needed it. But I could not define them completely by their worst moments. I had seen too many glimmers of brightness, of cleverness, of laughter, of tenderness. Whatever they had done or not done, they were teenagers, with possibilities.
Deontea ended the possibilities of Officer Allen Jacobs and his family, and he also ended his own possibilities. He chose to drop out of high school. He joined a gang. He committed egregious crimes. He killed a man.
But as Easter comes closer I keep hearing a hymn.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
Love demands my soul, my life, my all.
Love so amazing demands that I love. Love so amazing demands that I see all others as human beings. Love demands that I grieve Deontea Mackey, too, as a child of God, treasured and loved and held and wept over. I’m sure God weeps with Deontea’s mother. With others who loved him.
You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them.
Psalm 56:8, Contemporary English Version
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine a bottle big enough.