My heart broke again this week when another police officer killed another unarmed black man. A police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck and he died. He didn’t have to die. It was pointless and tragic. Words fail to capture this moment.
I remember struggling with Eric Garner’s death in 2014. His last words were public and widely heard. Back then, as I read his words, I decided to set them to music. Then, one month later, a police officer shot Michael Brown. Sadly, this wasn’t the end of the violence.
A friend on Facebook shared a post highlighting all of the things I take for granted as a white, cisgender, male. It said:
- I can go birding (#ChristianCooper)
- I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery)
- I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothamJean and #AtatianaJefferson)
- I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride)
- I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark)
- I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards)
- I can play loud music (#JordanDavis)
- I can sell CDs (#AltonSterling)
- I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
- I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown)
- I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice)
- I can go to church (#Charleston9)
- I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin)
- I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell)
- I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant)
- I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland)
- I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile)
- I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones)
- I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford)
- I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher)
- I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott)
- I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover)
- I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese)
- I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans)
- I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood)
- I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo)
- I can run (#WalterScott)
- I can breathe (#EricGarner)
- I can live (#FreddieGray)
- I CAN BE ARRESTED WITHOUT THE FEAR OF BEING MURDERED (#GeorgeFloyd)
This list isn’t even complete. Yet, a single death should be enough to reconsider the role of violence in our world. A single death is too many. Jesus loved everyone. John 3.16 begins, “For God so loved the world…” Not, “For God so loved certain people…” God calls Christians to model inclusion and love. This means standing up and “speaking truth in love” (Ephesians 4.15). In John 18.38, Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” His question was in response to Jesus saying, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18.37).
Plato said, “Truth is the beginning of every good.” If followers of Christ belong to the truth, then we hear Jesus’ voice, and if Plato is accurate, truth begins something good.
The truth is the U.S. needs to figure out its problem with racism. In response to George Floyd’s death, President Trump tweeted on May 29, 2020, “….These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
Twitter flagged the tweet for violating its rules about glorifying violence. Since I do not follow the President on Twitter, I would not have known about his tweet if Twitter had not marked it and several news outlets reported it. See reporting here, here, and here. Because media provided wide coverage of the tweet, I am thinking about it and what it means to followers of Christ.
Feeling the love of Christ for our President, I want to say, “Your tweet did not help.” This moment could be an opportunity for healing. Arrest the officer who killed George Floyd (done). Begin an investigation (done). Don’t call protestors “THUGS” (not done). Don’t threaten protestors (not done). Don’t suggest that people will start shooting one another (not done).
Speaking truth in love means trying to remain objective even in an emotional situation. What is true? The President sent a tweet. Twitter flagged the tweet. The tweet could be interpreted to incite further violence.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.39), Jesus teaches his followers not to return violence for violence. John Howard Yoder interprets Jesus’ nonviolent teaching and situates it alongside contemporary thought about just war. He writes in When War is Unjust, “Nonviolent action on behalf of justice is no automatic formula with promise of success: but neither is war” (p. 77).
Maybe the President’s tweet was intended to honor the memory of George Floyd. In that case, he underestimated the unintended consequences of his words. He could have said, “This is heartbreaking.” Or, “I know you’re upset, but please let us sort this out. We will have justice for George Floyd.” Or, he could have even sent his thoughts and prayers and then remained silent.
As I pray for the George Floyd’s family, the protestors, the first responders, and the continuing pandemic of COVID-19, I also pray for the President. I pray for the incredible original sin of the U.S.—racism. I pray for wisdom and words that can be healing, helpful, or, at a minimum, do no harm.
Lord, guide us in these difficult days.