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As someone who celebrates Easter, I, like many Christians, am deeply reflecting on the death of Jesus, an innocent man who was murdered with impunity at the hands of the state. This tragic reality is impacting me on a different level this year, and I invite other Christians to also reflect on how the death of Jesus represents the way in which power works within the context of the state.

State-Sanctioned Murder

As a member of Black Lives Matter, I have been involved in the #LetUsLive Coalition’s work to pass Assembly Bill (AB) 392. If passed, AB 392 would set clear parameters around when police can use lethal force, require deescalation, and increase accountability for state-sanctioned violence. I am also actively opposing Senate Bill (SB) 230, which was introduced at the bidding of police unions and agencies to give the impression that something (i.e. training) is being done to reduce state-sanctioned deaths, but really acts to curtail accountability for officers who kill with impunity rather than work to preserve life.

As Christians, we know that Jesus died for our salvation, but we often overlook the fact that his death was sanctioned by a state that was aware of his innocence.

What do these bills have to do with Easter? A lot! When we celebrate Easter, we focus on the power of Jesus’s resurrection. But before we get to the beauty of the savior’s resurrection, we reflect on the crucifixion. As Christians, we know that Jesus died for our salvation, but we often overlook the fact that his death was sanctioned by a state that was aware of his innocence. This state-sanctioned murder is the focus of my reflection, and central to my call for legislators who believe, to seek accountability rather than turn a blind eye and ignore their responsibility to uphold justice and preserve life.

In the Easter story, Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect (governor) of Judea, represents the state. As a representative of the Roman Empire, Pilate had the option and power to save an innocent man’s life. He knew that Jesus, despite the fact that he disrupted the social order, which was grounded in unjust laws, did not deserve death. Yet, for fear of how the people would respond, Pilate acted with impunity and chose to allow the death of an innocent, political radical and revolutionary man, to prevail over justice. He washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of this man's blood… It is your responsibility!” (Matthew 27:24). Pilate believed that by recusing himself, he was blameless in the murder of Jesus Christ. The reality, however, is that, by taking the path of least resistance and doing nothing to prevent Jesus’s death, Pilate was as culpable as the crowd that demanded his murder. Pilate was the state, he sanctioned the violence, and held responsibility for Jesus’s murder. Moreover, he left Mary, the disciples and followers of Jesus to deal with the pain, trauma, and loss of their beloved. For all of this, he should have been held accountable.

This Easter season, our legislators are faced with two options:

  • to take the Pontius Pilate way, wash their hands and recuse themselves of their responsibility to protect people from wrongful death at the hands of the police, or
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  • to take the courageous way, do what is right and just, and support legislation that has the power to prevent men and women from being murdered through state-sanctioned violence by mandating accountability for officers who unnecessarily take the lives of innocent people.

SB 230 is the Pontius Pilate way. It allows our legislators to say, “Though we are aware that this bill does not call for accountability, we do not want to rock the boat with the police and hope that training will be enough.” But the truth is, training is not enough. It has never been enough. Officers are trained today, yet lives continue to be taken. More training does not offer the type of change that we need to preserve life.

AB 392 offers accountability. This bill sets clear standards for use of force, requires deescalation, and holds officers who take a life outside of the bounds of the law accountable for their actions. The data is clear that when officers know that they will be held accountable for unnecessarily taking lives, fewer people are killed by police (reference). AB 392 offers the type of justice and accountability that the people of California need and deserve. If passed, this law will help ensure that fewer (ideally no) people are left to mourn the loss of a loved one whose life was taken at the hands of the state without recourse.

State-Sanctioned Murder

Before his death, Jesus reminded us that “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Luke 6). Thousands of families mourn their loved ones who were killed by law enforcement. They are pouring out their hearts and souls in this fight to prevent others from suffering the same fate; they hunger and thirst after righteousness. They are calling on our legislators to be merciful. Their hearts are pure and filled with hope that justice will prevail. They seek peace as they demand accountability, and they should not be persecuted for their demands; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Our legislators have a critical decision to make. I urge those who are people of faith and believe in the gospel to look to the Easter story, reflect on the role that the state played in the murder of a man who was undeserving of death, and remember that, like Pontius Pilate, they have an important role to play in deciding the fate of their people. Our lives are in their hands, and they will be held accountable for their decision.

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La Mikia Castillo

La Mikia Castillo is a an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California's Sol Price School of Public Policy and a member of Black Lives Matter - Los Angeles.