“I can’t breathe” was the ceaseless, tenuous cry of a dying black man suffocating from the pressure on his neck by a racist murderer acting in the authority of law enforcement! George Floyd is yet another casualty in the homogeneous history of barbaric racism against blacks in the United States of America. COVID-19 has been called a pandemic in America for only a few months. Racism, however, is a longstanding pandemic on this soil dating back to 1619. This country has yet to reckon with its malicious, racist history. The problem is so deeply interwoven in society’s fabric until the broader culture has been anesthetized to the pain. It privileges some people at the expense of holding others back.
Throughout history, civilians and police officers have killed many black people. Some of the perpetrators died without paying the price. Others, such as George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson, were legally exonerated. We are not surprised. The system is not broken. It was built to protect racists! Some of the laws have changed; but the foundation remains, and each generation produces racists who wreak havoc in every sphere of society. Blacks have lived in this reality for many generations with little hope for an equal playing field for all Americans. The recent protests, riots, and lootings are a social outcry: “Enough Is Enough!”
George Floyd’s murder, caught on video, is a tipping point. Derek Chauvin’s knee mercilessly pressing Floyd’s neck is a graphic visual of how this country unfailingly has had its knee on the neck of black America. If that image is not convincing enough, consider how Omar Jimenez, the black CNN reporter, was taken into custody on national television while simply reporting the protest. His ID nor gentle explanation of his role as a journalist meant nothing against his black skin. Not far away from him, the Minneapolis state police treated the white CNN reporter, Josh Campbell, cordially and with dignity. Juxtaposing both situations denotes an intelligible expression of the racism America has far too long embraced. Blackness comes with a negative assumption amid white normativity. This is a systemic, structural, and social cultural problem that dominates the practices of far too many systems of power, as evident in unscrupulous policing, and the racial acts of many civilians the same.
Breonna Taylor and George Floyd murders are reminiscent of a history of policing that has historically targeted black communities, dating back to its origin as slave patrol in the South. Arbery's assassination is painfully reminiscent of the 1955 Emmitt Till murder in Money, Mississippi. The allegations surrounding the two cases are different; however, the racial actions taken by citizens to assume the power of protecting the community from a black man is the same. Moreover, whether George Junius Stinney, Jr., Emmitt Till, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Jamee Johnson, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor or a host of others, American history proves that there is an assumption of mysterious guilt when a white person says a black man did something wrong. History is paved with morbid pre-judgemnts for which black people had no day in court.
Racist narratives have shaped the entire existence of blacks in America, including the post-Civil War era of Jim Crow as evidenced in the 1920 Tulsa Race Riot when thousands of blacks were killed at the hands of the KKK (who were never charged). Mischaracterization of blacks, negative blink responses to black skin, and the black experience in general are all resulting harms from white supremacy. Any reasonable and good-hearted person should see that the pain is real. We need all hands-on deck to realize the overdue change of systems and social culture.
Our debaters often argue that Black people should “just get over it.” Some dismiss these important concerns as a mere “leftist agenda.” Some white Christians attempt to reframe and demonize concerns that blacks continuously address and suggests certain responses to racial misconducts against us, such as riots, are creating the problems. It should be noted, however, urgency is the mood of the black community.
We must affirm the anger, sadness and even fear that set hearts ablaze; at the same time, condemn those who infiltrate the protests to stir up riots and lootings with a separate agenda. Their malicious intent is focused on stoking the problem that the protests aim to address.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. correctly said, “Riots are the language of the unheard.” However, events over the past week have revealed that riots are also tools in the hands of the malevolent whose purpose is to take advantage of socially vulnerable moments to undermine the worthy mission. Both are simultaneously true. Prayerfully, more information about the trifling, malicious groups will emerge, soon. Yet, everyone (black, white, brown, and anyone else) must diligently attend to the main issues that have been screaming from the social structures of America since 1619.
What is it that America has failed to hear? Frankly, to be heard, you have to matter. Black people have not mattered equally as whites for centuries!
The Christian position should be forward thinking and intentional about hearing the language of the black community, irrespective of dialects. We must reconsider the faith that Jesus intended – one of justice, mercy, love and hope. Everyone is created in the image of God. As is argued in the book, Is Christianity the White Man’s Religion?, written by one of us (Antipas) biblical Christianity is for everyone; it connects with the anguish on the streets and fights for the equal, merciful, and loving treatment of all of God’s children. Christians must distance faith from party politics, regain Christ-centered, Spirit-filled moral authority, and show solidarity with the angry protesters over social injustice.
Norman A. Harris, J.D., M.Div., principle owner of Champions for Justice Law, LLC, community activist and ordained minister of the gospel.