We are witnesses to a likely tipping point in racial history in the United States. Because a passerby named Darnella Frazier had the presence of mind to record a video on her cell phone of the entire encounter between Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and a 40-something black man named George Floyd, a complaint blacks have been making for decades of police brutality was verified for all Americans and all the world to see. Unlike prior juries blinding themselves to police violence, Chauvin’s jury convicted him of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter, with sentencing of possibly 75 years.
In prior similar circumstances the lack of video evidence led to the exoneration of police officers submitting a no-guilty plea, but not this time. Since the incident between Chauvin and Floyd nearly a year ago, Ms. Frazier’s video has been replayed countless times leading to general public outrage at Mr. Floyd’s mistreatment. Chauvin’s conviction came as a sigh of relief as the cloud of yet another possible exoneration of an abusive police officer hung over the entire proceedings. Chauvin’s conviction will hopefully aid Floyd’s family through their grief.
But the grief of families who have lost loved ones and friends to police violence, where not guilty judgments came down will not be easily assuaged. The underlying racism which has led to such judgments is long-standing and not likely to disappear soon.
Even where injustice has continued as a result of not-guilty verdicts for police brutality, it is unfair and untrue to assume all police are Derek Chauvins. They are not. As Attorney General Merrick Garland made clear in his brief address Wednesday morning, the vast majority of hard-working police officers are also outraged at peers’ brutality and do not condone it.
Furthermore, defunding police is no solution either. My son-in-law’s brother is a detective in the Denver Police Department who performs, without going into detail, a grisly kind of investigative non-homicide work, none of us would want to touch. All our family is thankful he no longer patrols city streets at night on graveyard shift. Police provide an invaluable service and deserve our deepest gratitude, as we witnessed among the many heroes of the Capitol Police on January 6th.
But the Chauvin-Floyd incident is a strong reminder of the need for reforms in police departments across the nation. AG Garland announced a sweeping Justice Department probe into the practices and culture of the Minneapolis Police Department. Garland also signaled the DOJ will return to a more robust use of federal legal authority to push for reforms among police departments. Yet, the Chauvin conviction’s most historic consequence may be on its way in the George Floyd Policing Act Congress, the Senate and the President will be considering over the next few months.
The issue of racism, however, isn’t limited to Chauvin-Floyd-like incidents. Such incidents are only the tip of the iceberg regarding racism along with many other forms of discrimination, whether with regard to race, nation, class, gender, religion, what have you. As killings of Asians in Atlanta, homosexuals in Wyoming, Jews in Pennsylvania, Sikhs in Indiana, and 400 years of murders of African-Americans, and uprooting Native Americans and Hispanics across this continent, hatred is no newcomer to this land. The past few decades suggest racism has gotten a stranglehold on many in our nation. The open proliferation of Nazi swastikas and hate-language not heard since 1930’s-early 1940’s Germany in this country is deeply troubling.
Often we Christians are unsure how to respond constructively, except to escape to Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, the latter as I have, to vent our outrage, only to reinforce the very hatefulness we loathe. I find myself becoming more allied with the problem than the solution.
And yet, as the number of racist incidents and my knowledge of my own participation in systemic racism—I’m only afraid when I see a police officer while driving white is that I’ll be ticketed—grows, the more I find the need to let the Holy Spirit guide me to a better place. The Spirit knows my positive (as well as negative) proclivities and leads me to the scriptures.
I think of Jesus’ embrace of the despised Samaritans, Israel’s inclusion of the Moabitess Ruth, the Jews pronouncement of the Persian King Xerxes, who delivered them from exile, as a “messiah,” and Paul’s belief that Gentiles, women, and slaves should be numbered among the saints along with Jews, men, and the free. Paul’s list includes us “goy,” the Hebrews name for us non-Jews!
Most of all I remember this telling verse from Genesis: ”Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” I’ve said before, pronouns are important. Note the verse’s use of the pronouns “us” and “our.” God speaks of God’s self as plural. It means God is all about healthy relationships. God doesn’t speak as a singularity, but a plurality. Being made in God’s multi-rainbow image, all persons bear this divine stamp of plurality. We are, as our nation’s motto says, “e pluribus, unum,” “out of many one”! Genesis means we first need to try to recognize the image of God within every person we meet, including enemies Jesus calls us to love. And Shawnee Community Christian Church says it in our Values Statement:
We value church defined as a family, we value welcoming, celebrating, and affirming the gifts of all people (every race, orientation, gender identity, theological, or political perspective).
And our denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) speaks of this same welcoming, all-inclusive celebration of humankind when it calls us and our churches, “A movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”
Sad as all the events of Minneapolis are: The death of George Floyd, the grief of his family and friends, and even the sad ending to Derek Chauvin’s career and life ahead, the Spirit of justice continues to arc forward for all. We caught a glimpse of it in the jury’s decision. We are likely to catch more glimpses in reforms, which take place as a result. They all are proving that God is still near us and still speaking to us all through human events.
Peace and justice, all!