Thou shalt not kill. -Exodus 20:13 (The Sixth Commandment)
There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
Just before 8:00 last Thursday night, on August 20, 2020, a 27-year-old Roanoke man was shot to death at the busy corner of Riverland Road and Garden City Boulevard in Southeast Roanoke.
Official sunset that day was 8:05 pm, so the murder occurred during daylight hours. If you know your local geography, that intersection is at the base of Roanoke’s iconic, beloved Mill Mountain. The scenic Star Trail that leads to the summit starts just a few yards down the road from the murder site.
The victim was Mr. Malik Sims.
President Harry S Truman, who was in the White House at the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War (1945-1953), once remarked: It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose your own.”
This shows an important truth about human life: situations usually do not seem serious until they hit us personally.
A few weeks ago I saw a friend of mine who works in law enforcement here in the Valley. I thanked him for his service and said, “this summer, I’m so thankful we’re in Roanoke and don’t have the insanity we’re seeing in other places [Portland, Seattle, etc.]. He diplomatically but quickly corrected me: “We’ve got our own problems here–we’re seeing crazy stuff here in the Valley we’ve never seen before. A guy was shot in the face while pumping gas at the corner of Plantation Road and Hershberger, and they don’t think the gunman even knew the guy.”
We can easily grow numb by images of murders, looting, and cities burning in far-off Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Portland, etc. We can also grow numb to reports of murders here in Roanoke if we delude ourselves by thinking, “that’s in another part of town” or “that’s way across the city from me.”
In this case, however, the murder hit my heart. I knew Malik Sims.
After the shooting when I saw his photo on social media, I recognized him immediately. Having been teaching since I graduated from William and Mary and got my license in 1987, I have been blessed to work with countless thousands of young people and their families in Virginia, Taiwan, and online around the world.
At this point in my life, I cannot claim to remember each student’s face or name, but Malik was such a remarkable young man, he left an indelible imprint on my heart and mind. He was in a “Bible as Literature” elective class I taught at Patrick Henry High School over a decade ago.
Malik was consistently punctual to class and upbeat, cheery, engaged, curious, respectful, energetic, and positive. He readily made connections among content he had learned in our class, other classes, or in his life. In short, he was the ideal student any teacher could wish for, and the kind of young person we want to see live, work, and raise a family in our community.
Malik’s early death is a tragedy, and I grieve.
The text we studied in our “Bible as Literature” class is obviously the book that has had an incalculably profound impact on both Western Civilization and much of the world. That Bible, over and over, tells us God hates the shedding of innocent blood.
Recently I have been reading the so-called Jewish “Minor Prophets” of the Old Testament and many of them warned — almost 3,000 years ago—against complacency, arrogance, injustice, corruption, and violence. Frankly, their ancient warnings sound like a summary of much of life in the USA today.
The prophets warned over and over (usually to deaf ears), if the peoples of the world did not repent and end their violence and injustice–”the shedding of innocent blood”–God would judge them and destroy their civilizations. Read any world history book today, and you will see it is a recurring story of civilizations rising, becoming wealthy and corrupt, and then collapsing into oblivion.
Simply put, the prophets’ predictions came true.
Over 20 years ago a wise friend in Taiwan told me, “God’s judgment usually does not involve God destroying us–He usually lets people destroy themselves.”
Don’t be deluded. The lawlessness, chaos, and violence are all taking a toll. In Malik’s tragic case, the violence took his life. His life mattered; not just because he was black, but because he was a precious member of our Roanoke and human community.
As Malik’s former teacher, what can I do?
I can’t bring Malik back, end his family’s and friends’ pain, find the murderer, or stop the madness. However, I can stop, grieve, pray, repent, ask God to help us… and write this passage, asking you to do the same.
We need to repent, ask God to heal our land, and work against lawlessness wherever it may be found.
– Scott Dreyer