This experience brought me back to Archbishop Oscar Romero's Third Pastoral Letter. He, who would be executed by a death squad bullet (probably ordered by the man who would later be president of El Salvador), spoke into the violence of the civil war happening in El Salvador at the time. He wrote his letter in response to those who were calling for him to condemn the actions of guerrillas who were fighting government forces.
In it, he said that those of us who name ourselves as Christians are called to witness to non-violence. But our opposition to violence must be rooted in a gospel analysis of power and oppression. And that analysis must bring us to see that there are three levels of violence: the first, and most powerful, is that of systemic violence; the second is the repressive violence that is used to keep the systemic violence in place; and the third he named self-defensive violence. He said that if we are to stand against self-defensive violence without a willingness to name, confront and seek to dismantle systemic violence and the repressive violence that seeks to maintain it, then we are hypocrites and preaching an empty gospel.
The situation in New York and Ferguson and Los Angeles and Minneapolis-- in which unarmed, African American people are harassed or arrested or executed for walking while black-- is one of systemic and repressive violence. Police brutality is the violence used to repress those who are the targets of systemic violence. And if I want to be the kind of Christian who preaches an authentic, viable, true gospel, I feel compelled to stand with those witnessing against these kinds of violence.