Editor’s Note: Jemar Tisby is a Ph.D. student in history and a former school teacher and principal. He is the President of the Reformed African American Network and co-host of the “Pass The Mic” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @JemarTisby.
On Saturday night, Jordan Edwards was fatally shot by a police officer when the teen left a party in a Dallas suburb
Jemar Tisby: Jordan's life was precious, not because he got good grades, but because he was a living, breathing human being
On Saturday night, Jordan Edwards, an unarmed 15-year-old African American male, was shot and killed by a police officer while leaving a party in Balch Springs, Texas. The bullet struck Jordan in the head, and shortly thereafter the teenager was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Initially, the police claimed that the car that Jordan got into was reversing “aggressively,” and the officer shot back in response. But the police chief has since said that video evidence showed the exact opposite, and that the officer’s actions “did not meet our core values.”
Across the nation, people expressed rage. Jordan wasn’t armed. He wasn’t a suspect. He didn’t resist arrest. How did he end up dead?
Along with the pain and anger came stories of his exemplary character. According to Lee Merritt, the attorney for the Edwards family, “Jordan was a straight-A student and a standout athlete who was beloved by his schoolmates.” A statement by the Mesquite Independent School District, where Jordan attended school, said he “was a good student who was very well-liked by his teachers, coaches and his fellow students.” And Chris Cano, the parent of one of Jordan’s football teammates, stated, “He was not a thug. This shouldn’t happen to him.”
But if you think Jordan didn’t deserve to die because he was a good student, then you’re missing the point. Jordan’s achievements don’t make him any more valuable than a person who had trouble in school and a history of bad decisions.
What makes a person’s life precious is simply the fact that he or she is a living, breathing human being. As wonderful a teenager as Jordan was, his death would be no less tragic if his record had been less admirable.
Many times, the public will look at someone’s record of rights and wrongs to determine whether that person “deserved” to die. Resist that impulse.
Christians value life based on a foundational biblical principle called the “imago dei” (image of God). In Genesis 1:26, God says, “‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness.” That fact of our creation, inherent to us all, gives us worth. Regardless of people’s wealth or race, everyone is “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
That Jordan was a beloved son, brother and friend, as well as a hardworking student and athlete, make his death even more poignant, but that’s not what makes his life precious and his death devastating.
This isn’t to say that actions don’t matter. It is not to imply that a person’s conduct is inconsequential. What a person does makes a difference, especially in the instance in question.
But too often people bring up a person’s history to make him into a hero or a hoodlum. They want to create a monster who doesn’t merit mercy or a moral exemplar whose life is more valuable than the average person’s. Neither villainizing nor valorizing does justice to the fundamental dignity everyone deserves.
Jordan’s death should cause us to re-evaluate how law enforcement officers are being trained. It should elicit calls for information and accountability if criminal wrongdoing is discovered.
Most of all, Jordan’s death should bring about mourning. His parents will never again drop off their son at school and wave goodbye to him. His friends will never hear another joke or see another smile from him. His teammates will never again get to say “nice play” or “good hustle.”
Unfortunately, there will probably be another event like this one. An unarmed person, perhaps African American, will be killed under dubious circumstances by those empowered to protect the public.
The next person who ends up a hashtag may not be as virtuous as Jordan, but that doesn’t mean he or she is any less deserving of dignity. Our sorrow shouldn’t depend on whether someone got straight As.