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The death of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin was a tragic and traumatic experience for Americans in general and African Americans specifically. It graphically and virally positioned front and center the violent and cruel underbelly of the beast that American society can be. Is America “Mom, Apple Pie, and the land of the free?” Absolutely it is . . . Until it isn’t. It’s that “isn’t” part that constantly stokes the soul trauma and ancestral stress response which has become a gaping, leaking, gangrenous, and throbbing sore on the group psyche of black folks of the diaspora in this “land of free.”
I don’t personally know George Floyd but I’ve seen him almost every day of my life staring back at me when I brush my teeth.I’ve never personally met Derek Chauvin but I’ve seen him in my rearview mirror several times silhouetted by a red and blue blinking glow or heard him asking me if that’s weed he smells on me even though I’ve never dragged a blunt a day in my life or clutching my wrist seeking to handcuff me a half a block from the church or . . .
The Derek Chauvin conviction on all three counts has not changed those deep psychological misgivings and pains. Not for me. Not for the “African American” community. Not at all. It hasn’t erased the deep feelings of betrayal and dishonor of years of broken promises, “wink-wink” “empowerments”, or flat out genocidal violence and cultural-familial erasure.
There’s a reason that the response to this “victory” for “social justice” has been so muted. There’s no cinematic Wiz style “Can you feel a brand new day!” song and dance celebration on the streets Minneapolis or Compton or Harlem or Oak Cliff or Bed Stuy or Oakland or South Central or . . .
Many of us are still holding our breath like Whitney in waiting to exhale. Many of us still can’t breathe. For me it goes back to the mid 70’s and seeing the level of impotence and rage in the eyes of my dangerously powerful Father as he was unable to protect me from a white man and his family who bumped me with their horse or the gang of white guys who chased me down and beat me for walking in their neighborhood. I could run home and tell him but he knew he’d get shot chasing them down and that the local police would only give a “wink-wink” we’ll look into it.
Or maybe it goes back to the Rodney King trial. “We” saw America put itself on trial for the brutalization of a black man. We thought, “Finally! Now people can SEE that we’re not crazy! That this really does happen!” But nope. Obviously we couldn’t believe our eyes. Even when it’s caught on film.
Social justice is a common term used today. Many will say this trial’s outcome is the goal of social justice. That may well be. But I believe Scripture speaks to this idea of justice in a broader sense. Scripture calls for us to look back at the Creator as our source — The Creator of George Floyd and Derek Chauvin and every single human to walk on this planet. Biblical justice starts by seeing people as created in the image of God and therefor worthy of purposeful existence and freedom from violent oppression.
One day there will be perfect justice, carried out by a perfectly holy and just God in a place where righteousness rules. In the meantime, evil and sin are systemically pervasive throughout America and the rest of this world. Young women and girls are sold into sexually abused bondage and trafficked. Racists and bigots and supremacists are using privilege and power to dominate and demean and destroy. People locked out of the benefits of the system, locked into servitude to the system, and locked up for opposing the system are screaming their frustration and pain in the only language they know how . . . sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly.
Therefore I’m satisfied with this verdict but not joyful. I am mourning the senseless death of a man accused of passing a bad 20-dollar bill. I am mourning two sets of children and families who will be without because of the senselessness of those 9 minutes. I am mourning those who are yet waiting for some semblance of justice, many of which will never get it.
I’m not thirsty for some type teary eyed mea culpa from anyone. I just wanna be able to call the police on criminals and not worry that when they show up at my door they’ll think I’m the criminal. I just wanna not feel a fearful need to check on my son every time another black man is killed by law enforcement. I’m tired of hoping he remembered how to interact with policemen or if sending him off to “that white school” has made him forget that the way his white friends loudly demand their rights at a traffic stop will get him killed. I just wanna breath.
And I can’t yet.
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause,” (Isaiah 1:17).
Ernie Johnson is a sports anchor and television personality on the show NBA on TNT. He was profoundly affected by the past presidential election and voiced his opinion on politics and religion as it pertains to the president elect, Hilary Clinton, voting one’s conscience, and approaching this with a Christian worldview.
I listened to Ernie Johnson’s profound and encouraging take with mixed emotions. It was life affirming and proposed a healthy, Christ-centered, road forward. But it was too soon for me to hear . . . although I agreed with almost everything he said. My emotions still hadn’t reached a proper equilibrium.
I have never, ever, felt embarrassed that a person was president. Never. Until now. I’ve disagreed with every president on something… crap… on many things. I’ve even disliked some! But NEVER felt embarrassed. I disagreed with President Obama on many things. And I disagreed with George W. Often. But I’ve never felt embarrassed that either was my president. So, though I agree with Ernie, my emotional response is to feel a huge disappointment in our country.
I grew up loving the ethos of patriotism and the myth of America. Somewhere, deep in my core, is an abiding sense of pride for being African American… not black only . . . but African American. Many people will interpret that as being fearful that, as an African American male, I won’t be able to prosper under this next administration. That’s not the case at all. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and have experienced racism and prejudice first hand. From being called “nigger” by what looked like someone’s elderly grandma from a passing car to being physically assaulted and battered by 5 white men “because you’re black!” to being handcuffed for DWB. Racism isn’t some boogieman waiting to jump out because of a new president for me. It’s my daily existence.
The hope that our country represents is important to me… Today I’m feeling that my only hope is in The Lord. Now, I’m aware that many hyper-spiritual and churchy rhetoricians will be quick to point out that, The Lord being our only hope, has always been the case. I am fully aware of that. But for me, America is still an ideal that represents hope. Alexis de Tocqueville’s book “Democracy in America,” written in the 1830’s, calls our system of governance “the great American experiment.” Alexander Hamilton also called a government formed “by the people, for the people” a grand experiment. There’s this sense that if we could just get out of one another’s way, this “experiment” might be proven viable. That, indeed, there can be liberty and justice for all. This brings hope. That in some way, in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., even the children of former slaves and former slave owners, can transcend the character flaws of our nation’s founders and embrace the core message of equality and freedom, gives hope.
I felt, maybe naively, that we were moving towards a new paradigm for the American franchise. Tony Stark in the 2008 Cinematic production of Iron Man said, “I had my eyes opened. I came to realize that I had more to offer this world than just making things that blow up. And that is why, effective immediately, I am shutting down the weapons manufacturing division of Stark Industries.” I hoped that maybe, just maybe, we were at the place where we’d attempt to change the franchise reputation from “just making things that blow up,” to something more hopeful.
I have seen none of that “hope” in the rhetoric of the president elect, and it disheartens me. I have heard, if not blatantly racist, then racist adjacent, or at least racist “wink-wink,” comments, from the human figurehead of our country, and it embarrasses me. I have witnessed white supremacist domestic terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan have a victory rally and openly celebrate the election of their candidate, and it demoralizes me. I have seen many Christian evangelical brethren, who happen to be white, overwhelmingly support, to the tune of 81%, a person who is adored by almost every racist organization in America. Granted, that doesn’t mean they’re racist, but it does demonstrate their priorities when it comes to policy and ethics.
Yet, I am still encouraged by the words of the prophet Isaiah. He proclaimed in his introductory statement to a glimpse into the throne room of Yahweh, “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1). This gives me hope that regardless of who sits upon earthly thrones, the throne in Heaven is not vacant. That whether our president elect is Hitler part deux or truly “makes America great again,” that my “citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” So I cling to the same God Of Hope who’s kept me through Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Both Bushes, Clinton, and Obama. So don’t worry Ernie, I’ll get there. It’s just too soon.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)