Like so many people, I have been struggling to find the right words and emotions to describe the visceral reaction to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. For the past six weeks, I have watched the country, and my people specifically, struggle through their own words, emotions, and rage, which has led to powerful demonstrations and protests that have been ongoing in some form every day for the last month. I have listened to and absorbed similar reactions among Scholars, Activists, Ministers, Prophets, Comedians, and everyday regular citizens; all moved in some way towards some action. That action has taken the form of protests, rioting, destruction, vocal outburst, civil disobedience, or genuine conversation about what this all means to and for our people, the state of the country at large, and the greater global community.
For six weeks, I have allowed my personal views and opinions to be expanded, challenged, tested, and hopefully perfected. A part of this perfecting has included digesting counter-arguments to the riots, protests, and killings, which, admittedly, have been hard to understand but necessary to observe. Even in opinions we disagree with are hints of the issues that fuel division. It is not my place to say who is right or wrong in all of this. Like so many people, I just want to see this planet we call home experience real Peace, where differences are not just tolerated but reconciled. I write this understanding the process of reconciliation is hardly ever easy. It usually requires, among other things, a level of honest reflection about the role we have played in the story , rather that role be assumed or forced and whether what we did within the role helped improve the condition of things or, in some way, help fuel the deterioration of them. Once you realize what you’ve done, what do you do with it? Do you need to do more or less or change? Is there anything you could do? So, this is what I was pondering a few weeks ago……
And then the killing of Rayshard Brooks happened. Amid the protesting and decries of Police overuse of force, an illustration of the double standard around how people of color are policed versus other ethnicities arose. As a side effect, Rayshard’s death seems to have fueled or further shaped public opinion about the riots, demonstrations and race relations in this country in a way that has been quite telling.
On the one hand, the killing seems to fuel a growing conversation about the role of Police in neighborhoods of color. Is defunding this institution in favor of more community-friendly measures and investments a reasonable option? I want to be clear that defunding is not the same thing as abolishing. Defunding is an effort to reduce capital investments as a means to minimize the ability for police to purchase military-grade weapons. It is also a leverage play to influence a discontinuance of overaggressive policing tactics, in favor of an approach more community-centric and focused on relationship building. Many people of color just want to see a positive change in the way our communities are policed.
On the other hand, the killing seems to have heightened a particular narrative about how people of color’s response to Police and authority at large dictate and influence the aggressive response we get from law enforcement. Some people argue that had Rayshard not resisted arrest, he would be alive today. Some say that had George not been suspected of using counterfeit money, the Police would never have been called, and he would be alive today. Breonna Taylor was sitting in her living room, minding her own business, when Police, responding to a drug enforcement warrant, stormed her apartment and ultimately killed her. However, some say, if drugs were not sold in that neighborhood, she would be alive today. Ahmaud was out for a jog. But he looked like a criminal. Had he not looked like a criminal, he might be alive today? Again these are the counter-arguments. For some even reading these positions, I am sure it invokes a visceral reaction and seems noticeably short-sighted and reeks of victim-blaming. I write this to highlight there is a side of the argument that says Police response to people of color is appropriate and directly proportionate to how we respond to them.
Outside of this are people who have a mixture of feelings about the protests-at-large and what their impact is on the overarching conversations about race and equality.
The truth is, any combination of these feelings is possible because opinions are nothing more than an emotional reaction based on experience perceived or real.
With all of this, I have said nothing about the Church. And do not worry because this is not the part of the post where I get preachy or theological. I will admit that all this unrest has changed my prayers over the last month, maybe several times over. As a human, African, and American, I am tired of seeing people who look like me and who come from the communities I come from – killed. George Floyd’s death was especially painful for me. In 8 minutes and 46 seconds, there was an indifference to life symbolic of the disregard you feel the country has for you as a Black Man in America. This country, and its systems of racial bias towards you, feel like a knee on your neck, slowly choking the life out of you.
Anyway, The Church is supposed to be a moral compass in times like this. Many are looking for a demonstration of how Jesus would respond in a time such as this. That is not to say there have not been a million sermons preached in the past month about all of this, but I am not looking for words. Jesus acted more than he ever spoke. In thinking about the Church, I realize they might be struggling to find their voice in all of this.
From the book of Genesis and forward, the truth is that there are countless examples of race and cultural-isms, disparities, slavery, and injustice. There are hundreds if not thousands of years of the prophets crying out to God for justice and vastly different paths God has taken throughout the scriptures to liberate a people. At the core of God’s word always seems to be a need to not just address the environmental condition, but also the condition of the heart. Said another way, he never seems to move you out of a bad situation or into a better one without first addressing what needs to change within you first.
The Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, not because they couldn’t get their bearings or that the wilderness was some vast maze, but rather God wanted to make sure their hearts and minds were rightly positioned to enable them to thrive and appreciate the Promised Land.
With this understanding, I write the rest of this article and pose some especially important questions for discussion. I will admit that I am not offering any solutions or proposed actions at this point. My goal is to start a healthy conversation that will, even in a small way, lead to significant change. My questions are:
1. Do you find the riots and protest effectively towards leading to definite future improvement towards race relations and improved equality? Is yes, why. If not, why not, and what would you propose as a better solution.
2. Are we (People of Color) handling the response to the killings and injustices consistent with how GOD would want his people to respond? If not, what does a GOD inspired response look like to you and in scripture?
3. How has social and cultural unrest changed or influenced your feelings about America? Has it dug up all wounds that need to be healed? Has it created a change in how you feel about people of other ethnicities? Has it strengthened your resolve to improve relations and make a positive change? Has it made you feel numb, discouraged, and disconnected?