In June of 2012, I was in Mbeya, Tanzania. One of my friends’ camera was stolen and we went to the police station in hopes of retrieving it.
I had no idea that I would be going headfirst into an experience that would be one of the most influential moments of the entire year.
It’s interesting, now that it’s been about ten months since the incident, it’s still very fresh in my mind. The temperature of the night, the smell of the station, the sketchy overhead lighting are all so clear. The clearest memory of all, however, was near the end of the evening as I walked down the dirt sidewalk with each of my arms around a child, trying not to cry as they cried….
Flash back two hours. I’m standing at the counter in the station as my friend fills out the most absurd police report (why do they want to know your religion when you report something stolen?). It’s just the two of us and two police officers in a small room split in half by a counter. The police officers are lethargic and apathetic… I imagine if there had been a Dunkin Donuts around, they would be extremely frequent patrons. Eventually they summon five people from the dark hallway behind the counter… the suspects.
Five girls, around ages 7-12, stood crying in a line behind the officers.
I’ll admit, at first I thought they were faking it. I thought they were trying to make us feel sorry for them so that we wouldn’t try to find the camera. Then I saw one of the officers pull a stick out from under the counter and taunt the girls with it.
The cries grew louder as the officer laughed. My rationale went out the window and I yelled at him that it wasn’t funny. I don’t even know how well he spoke English.
Seconds turns to minutes as we waited for something to happen in that depressing little room. I wonder how often someone walked in there with a question and actually walked out with an answer… something tells me not very often. Time passed. The children got louder. More men came in. There was no sign of the camera.
I’m not sure if the officer was bored or just thought he was funny, but he turned around and smacked one of the little girls across the face.
Can you imagine being slapped by a police officer at 10 years old? Just smacked, right across the face?
I was pissed.
There is no other way to say it. Infuriated maybe, but that police officer was not going to get away with that. Well, at least not without me saying anything.
I yelled at him. I screamed across the counter. I told him that he was abusing the very people he was supposed to be protecting. I told him it wasn’t funny as he laughed in my face.
Some people get really worried when I tell this story because they think I was in a very dangerous position. At the time I had absolutely no thought of danger in my mind. Looking back, that definitely wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but it was a natural reaction.
What would you do if you saw that?
Nothing bad happened to me. Eventually, after a lot of arguing and yelling (somehow the police station filled with people… don’t really remember how that happened) I took the five girls home. Just me. My friends that were with me stayed at the police station for a bit longer as I practically ran to the door, pushing the girls in front of me until we were out of that awful building. I had the two littlest ones right next to me, one under each arm, as we walked back to the area where they lived. One was hyperventilating, and the other was crying softly.
Tears started to stream down my face. I couldn’t help it.
It wasn’t so much that the policeman had hit a child. It was so much more than that. How could there be a country where that was ok? How could there be corruption that manifested itself in the endorsed abuse of a child? How much justice could actually prevail under such leadership?
How will these children ever feel safe and protected if trouble strikes?
I don’t know. I do know that God cares more about them than I do, and if they need someone to get them out of trouble or yell at a stinky mean police officer, he will provide someone to do that.
I found out later that my friends didn’t follow me home because they stayed and prayed for the police officer. How crazy is that? The body of Christ is so diverse, but also complete, that how they responded was completely different than how I responded. But it was needed. He needed to know that God had more for him than to pick on small children. And now he does.
This moment became huge for me because through it I realized that I have a huge passion for justice. In that moment, face to face with injustice, I couldn’t just stand there. I physically couldn’t. I had to move. It’s an important thing to know- what in your life stirs you so much that you MUST react?
When have you seen injustice? What did you do to stop it? What can we do to stop it?