Jay Lenkersdorfer

In the last ten days there have been near continuous protests in cities across the nation. The reason for these protests, say the protesters, is that police murdered George Floyd, an innocent man, and people are fed up with the corrupt police forces across the nation. The nightly news programs have near continuous coverage of the protests where more often than not, it is the police who are getting the rap for bad behavior.

I am grateful to be a white man who hasn’t had to deal with the difficulties that many minorities in our great nation are forced to deal with on a regular basis. From the day I was born through this very day, I have lived a life of privilege. I’ve had things go my way far more often than they haven’t. I think that my first exposure to minorities was when a Hispanic family moved into our neighborhood. Ruben Contreras was a kid my age and from the time he moved in we were fast friends. It didn’t hurt that he had a really cute sister.

The next time I really interacted with a minority was in high school when a couple of black families moved into town. Their parents were getting degrees at Utah State University at the time, but they were from African countries, not from run down inner-city neighborhoods. We accepted them into our peer group right away and that was pretty much the end of my exposure to minorities.

After high school I lived in Los Angeles for a couple of years and let me tell you, that was a very different experience. One of the first areas I was assigned to was South Central Los Angeles which included Watts and Compton. There were numerous occasions when we had rocks and bottles thrown at our car as we transited through certain neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, the automobile I was driving was a powder blue Ford two-door and our uniform of the day was white shirts and ties. We were often mistaken for being cops, not missionaries, and the rocks and bottles were tossed our way because of the general hatred the black community had for the police. Once a neighborhood found out that we were there representing God, not the government, most of our problems ceased.

While working near Venice Beach we had another slightly terrifying experience with a mob. We were walking through neighborhoods and came upon a street that was in the middle of a summer water fight. There must have been sixty African-Americans of all ages involved in this afternoon water riot, so we elected to skip that street, preferring the alley instead.

Much to our misfortune, upon exiting the alley at the other end of the block we were spotted by some of the young adults. “Let’s get them,” was shouted by one of them and before we knew it we were being chased by a mob. The missionary I was with that day wanted to take off running but I insisted that we stop and face the group that was after us.

Luckily for us, the first person to reach us was the person who had yelled “Get them,” but as we were approached I said, “We’re ministers, please don’t get our Bibles wet”. That one simple phrase changed our plight as the man put both arms in the air in an authoritative manner and yelled, “It’s cool, they’re with God,” and with that one comment the attack stopped. We visited with the entire mob for a few minutes then took leave of the group, counting our blessings that nothing bad happened. I doubt that their intentions were anything other than the mischief of dousing a couple of white kids with water, but the outcome could have gone differently.

Over my two years of missionary service in Los Angeles we had a few experiences where the police demanded that we get out of town. One Compton family we were teaching lived above a bicycle shop. The neighborhood was so questionable there were iron bars on the outside and inside of their windows. As we rang the bell that would alert the family we were there for our appointment a police car pulled up with lights flashing.

The lead cop asked, “What are you doing here, don’t you know that it’s dangerous to be here, especially at night?” We acknowledged that we knew where we were, but they would not leave until we were safely inside a locked door with the family. Another experience was similar, but the cop was even more concerned about our presence in that neighborhood at night. She was really surprised when we told her our apartment was just one street over.

I hope that the mischief that has been happening across the country can soon end. I don’t know how we get from the place we’re at with race relations to a world where there is total acceptance of each other regardless of race. Maybe we should have a program that requires students to live with a host family for three to six months their senior year of High School where a kid of privilege has to spend his time with an inner city family while a kid from that situation moves in with a prosperous family. The best result, if it is possible, would be for both to better understand the other student’s plight.

It’s worth consideration, isn’t it?

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