Breathless in America
Like so many throughout our country, and even the world, I am deeply angered and disturbed by the brutal and senseless murder of George Floyd. As George Floyd struggled to survive and pleaded, “I cannot breathe, sir,” his executioners failed to regard George’s rights, dignity, and personhood. The result of their actions is yet another black person suffering and dying from law enforcement officers who abandoned their call to protect and serve. If any black person in this country cannot breathe, then none of us can breathe.
Since George Floyd’s killing, we have witnessed our nation’s grief and desperate pleas for change, especially by those in the Black Community. There are thousands of peaceful, law-abiding protesters who are courageously speaking out against the sin of racism. They are also responding to the legacy and ongoing patterns of intimidation, violence, and oppression against Blacks in America, especially by law enforcement officers. Yes, there are some, a small number of people, who are taking advantage of these protests to loot, destroy property, and even carry out violent acts. This is wrong! Their actions are not a protest or even lawful, nor do they reflect the change that people are peacefully advocating for in the country.
As a privileged white male, I cannot even begin to understand the plight of Black Americans. The Church stands behind those who are peacefully protesting and speaking out against the grave injustices against Black Americans. The Church stands with those who are most vulnerable, those whose voices are being silenced, and those who have been abandoned. We cannot let the scenes of looting and property destruction to distract us from the truth that we live in a country where Blacks are fearful for their lives—they cannot enjoy freedoms many of us take for granted because of the rampant and toxic racist underbelly of our country.
As my colleague, The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, wrote so elegantly this week: “We need leadership in this country that creates a social contract between the protesters and the white majority which will deliver a transformation of structural racism in our economic structures; in policing; in the criminal justice system; in education; in health treatment; in housing; and in voting.”
We have a lot of work to do in this country, in our Church, and in our homes, when it comes to dealing with the sin of racism. We might want to begin our journey by walking with our Black sisters and brothers and listening to their stories.
We pray for George Floyd’s soul and for his family, friends, and a nation grieving his death. May George Floyd’s last words not be in vain. May his last words on Earth breathe life into changing our world.
The Very Reverend Ryan D. Newman