Mr. George Floyd: Race, Rioting, and Where Do We Go From Here?

“I can’t breathe” “Momma, Momma, I’m through.” “Don’t kill me.”  A Black man named Mr. George Floyd uttered these words while he was being choked out by a White thug named Derek Chauvin dressed in a police officer’s uniform. I won’t dignify him, nor his accomplices, with the honorable title “police officer.” They tarnish the badge and disgrace the vast majority of police men and women from every walk of life who actually do protect and serve, and who are disgusted by what happened to Mr. Floyd and want justice served.

As we all know, Chauvin lodged his knee into the neck of Mr. Floyd, who was unarmed, handcuffed, and laying belly down on the ground with his face buried in the concrete—a position that put Mr. Floyd at tremendous risk (see here). That knee remained firmly lodged in Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, and 2 minutes and 53 seconds of which Mr. Floyd was unresponsive! All of that while 2 other thugs dressed as police officers knelt upon Mr. Floyd’s legs and back (see video) and another thug dressed as a police officer stood at the front, seemingly trying to block people from seeing what was going on.  All of this while Mr. Floyd cried out in fear and desperation as he gasped for breath (if you’ve ever had the breath knocked out of you or were unable to breathe, you know how utterly terrifying that is), and bystanders pleaded with them to stop because they were killing him.

What was the great crime that Mr. Floyd committed that would warrant such murderous hostility? Allegedly, Mr. Floyd tried to purchase a pack of cigarettes with a fake $20 bill. I’m not justifying passing counterfeit bills, and Mr. Floyd may not have even known it was fake to begin with, but, oh the horror! Let’s make sure we arrest this menace to society, and if he resists in any fashion (which it is not clear that he did!), let’s kill him for just being suspected of doing such a morally depraved deed! (By the way, even if Mr. Floyd had resisted arrest, it does not excuse police brutality, or justify what happened to him).

Since it all happened, I like most have struggled with so many emotions. I can’t describe the deep sadness, anger, and paralyzing helplessness that I felt as I watched the video. Over a week later, and in light of all what has transpired, I’m still gripped by these feelings. I have not known what to say. I still struggle to find the words. Nevertheless, here I go:

To the family of Mr. Floyd, and all of my African American friends, family members, and entire community, I mourn and lament with you. I am frustrated and outraged with you. I confess that I feel as helpless to effect change as you do, nevertheless I stand with you.

The emotions that have gripped my heart have far too often been the common experience for many African Americans—our brothers and sisters in the beautifully diverse family called America who have endured tremendous injustices in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Thankfully, this great country of ours has corrected many of those injustices as it struggles to live up to the virtuous ideals it was founded upon. I’m thankful that we live this side of the Civil Rights movement, and in a country where black children who might aspire to become President one day know that such a thing is not a laughable (or offensive!) pipe dream anymore, and that we live in a country where one of the worst things that you could be called is a racist.

Nevertheless, the image of a Black man being mercilessly choked out (tortured as some have aptly put it) by a White man in a position of authority—all while he begs for him to stop, and still calling him “sir” and “officer”—crystallizes what our Black brothers and sisters in our American family have been saying to the point of exhaustion and at times through tears of bewilderment: we still have a long way to go for us to live up to the ideals that our country is founded upon, and to achieve the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King (MLK) went to his death without ever realizing.

The atrocity perpetrated against Mr. Floyd raises the question of whether the thugs that killed him were motivated in some way by racism against Black people. That could be difficult to prove, because, some might say, they weren’t spouting racial pejoratives as Chauvin held his knee down upon Mr. Floyd’s neck for almost 9 minutes.  But does anyone really expect any of them to confess, “Oh, yes judge, Mr. Floyd’s skin tone played a part in my abusive and deadly behavior toward him!” Uh…no.

To add to the difficulty, this article from a Black man named Samuel Sey,  points to the example of Tony Timpa, a White man who suffered and died in much the same way as George Floyd at the hands of abusive police officers (full story here).

Mr. Sey writes: “Predictably, our careless reactions to George Floyd’s murder have contributed to the divisions, tensions, anxieties, and indeed—riots we see in America today…In America, White men in blue uniforms have a long history of murdering men in black skin…But just as people shouldn’t perceive every Black man as a thug, we shouldn’t perceive every white police officer—including murderous police officers—as racist either. Maybe, the white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck because he’s a racist. Or maybe he isn’t a racist—maybe he pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck because just like the police officers who killed Tony Timpa, he’s just a horrible, deadly police officer…America’s history of racist police brutality isn’t evidence of racism in this incident…Opportunists have capitalized on his death—using his murder for material and political gain. And if we all focused on his humanity—instead of his skin colour—after his murder, there wouldn’t be riots across America today, and people would unite to remember him as a person—not a poster boy for a political agenda.”

I appreciate Mr. Sey’s desire to be cautious on issues related to race, and he makes some valid points. Far too often race baiters and race hustlers, politicians, and some in the media, use the issue not because they really want resolution, but to advance their own self-serving agenda and to make money. For the media, it’s ratings gold, and an opportunity for pundits, so consumed by their inflated sense of condescending self-importance and self-righteousness, to pontificate and lecture and scold Americans, most of whom are already appalled at racial injustice and want to see MLK’s dream realized.

These race baiters and hustlers, aided and abetted by some politicians and some in the media, often stoke the flames of unrest when things happen and sometimes even create false narratives, and when riots break out, they continue to fan the flames of unrest.

Once the fires in those neighborhoods finally burn out, the race baiters and hustlers and media pack up their cameras, microphones, and money bags and leave, while the people in those communities are left to pick up the pieces of what’s left of their community, and sometimes to mourn the death of those who were killed during the rioting. Soon after the issue that resulted in their businesses being looted and burned down (exacerbating the economic hardship in those communities) the event that sparked the riot is long forgotten.

The ones who suffer most are African Americans, while politicians who pandered to them go back to business as usual, enjoying the perks, privileges, and power of office, without ever effecting any change. That’s what’s so sad: some people want racial division because they profit from it.  They really don’t want solutions or “an end to systemic racism” because if there were, then that power and money well would dry up.

So, these are complex issues that must be handled with great care and wisdom. (see, for example, this very thought provoking clip from John McWhorter)

Thankfully, the charge of racism today carries a great deal of weight precisely because America is not the racist country it once was. Racists betray the true family name “American” that the brave Black activists and others of every background during the Civil Rights movement so powerfully brought to light. They held up the principles that the country was founded upon—such things as all men are created equal with certain unalienable rights—and showed us how Americans weren’t living up to what it meant to be American. As MLK put it, America had defaulted on its promissory note.   Yet, while America may not be a racist country today, we downplay or even forget its racist past to our peril, and we cannot ignore the fact that America (like every nation) has racists in it who oftentimes are not held accountable for their racist acts.

All of that said, while I appreciate Mr. Sey’s concerns, I do not believe that race should be discounted in this case.  Here are some reasons why I say that:

1. Mr. Sey mentions the long history of police injustice against Black people, men in particular (make no mistake, our Black sisters in our American family have also suffered, most recently, Breonna Taylor, who no one is talking about, by the way). True, that doesn’t necessarily prove racist intent in this case. However, history can’t be ignored, and in fact, part of the problem is that such injustice has often been downplayed or ignored.

2. In Mr. Floyd’s case, we see the image of a White man in a position of authority choking out a Black man, all while he begged for his life. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That picture is worth maybe a million, and is brought into sharper focus by the following factors:

– The relatively trivial circumstances that led to Mr. Floyd’s arrest.

– The excessive and the prolonged period of time of the force that was used.

– The fact that 2 of the men responsible for the death of Mr. Floyd, Chauvin and Thao, have a history of complaints against them for abusive behavior.

– The fact that this particular police department has had complaints of a pattern of racist behavior in the past, not to mention the patterns of racism that have plagued Minneapolis. See this article.

3. White people have not been the victims of systemic racism and mistreated by police simply because of the color of their skin. Black people have been and continue to be. True, the Civil Rights movement happened (praise the Lord!), and laws that govern the system have been reformed on the outside so that oppression against Black people and minorities should be illegal. However, racists within the system find ways to circumvent or ignore those policies so that they can continue to victimize people, especially Black people.

You can have all of the laws on the books you want that are supposed to ensure civil rights and equal opportunity. But, that won’t guarantee anything   1) as long as racists continue to be in positions of authority and power and allowed to circumvent those laws (and/or engage in unjust uses of law in the judicial system to carry out injustice against Black people) without any accountability or consequences; 2) because law in itself is powerless to change the human heart, and

Related to this point, I’ve heard people callously say, “What do those protesters even want!” One word: justice, meaning that those who killed Mr. Floyd are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I think everyone understands, or at least should, that the system will always have some who are bad actors. But when those bad actors are identified, there needs to be accountability and consequences. There needs to be justice. That’s not so much to ask, is it?

A second word that comes to mind is reform, where policy’s are changed that have created an environment where bad cops are given space to harass or abuse without consequence (see this article), and where Black people continue to experience harassment or w0rse simply because they are Black (see Senator Tim Scott’s testimony that I reference later). By the way, such reforms will benefit everyone, since people of all backgrounds have had bad cops do bad things to them, as Mr. Sey reminds us in his article.

4. If we’re looking for 100% certainty that racial bias against Mr. Floyd played a role in his death, we’re imposing a standard that will make it impossible to prove anything. Even in our legal system, 100% certainty is not the standard. The standard is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Given all of this, while I’m sensitive to Mr. Sey’s point, I nevertheless find it hard to believe that race had nothing to do with it. Regardless of what we think about racial intent in this case, and regardless of what other facts emerge about the case, Mr. Floyd’s senseless death should at least encourage us as an American family to finally look at this issue honestly, reflectively, and prayerfully.

So, where do we even begin to address the issue? Maybe a good place to start is to acknowledge, understand, and have compassion for the historical struggle of African Americans and their experience in this country. Understand the horrific ways that our Black fellow Americans have been marginalized, disenfranchised, and looked down upon with such contempt simply because of the color of their skin.

As mentioned earlier, we have come a long way, but, we have a long way to go. Racism is not what it once was, but it still very much is. There’s not only overt racism, but, much more often in our culture today, covert racism and subtle biases against Black people in particular.

For some, there’s a “minority” pecking order, and Black people are at the bottom. As if history itself doesn’t bear that out, my wife (who is African American), and I have plenty of examples that we have witnessed with our own eyes down through the years. You hear it in some of the offhand remarks people make that belittle Black people. You hear it in backhanded compliments. You hear it in comments that insinuate that Blackness is not beautiful or preferable. Ancestry research has been enlightening on this point, as some Whites and Hispanics are more than willing to embrace any Native American ancestry they may have, but become despondent if the DNA test comes back with even a small percentage of African DNA.

And it’s not just comments, but facial expressions that people make that indicate their aversion, repulsion, or disgust at darker skin color or Blackness (and they don’t even realize they are making the expressions).

Finally on this point, some White people pat themselves on the back and think that just because they don’t say the “n” word that they don’t have bigoted attitudes toward Black people. For sure, there are many who don’t. But, we need to know that racial bias goes much deeper than just being smart and polite enough to not say an ugly and offensive word–and some only refrain from using the word when Black folks are nearby. All bets are off though behind closed doors when Black people aren’t present.  True, racial and ethnic biases and bigotry aren’t things that just manifest themselves in some White people. They are found among some people in every group: Black, Asian, Hispanic, etc. However, that can’t be used to deflect, cover over, or rationalize the overt and covert racism and subtle and not so subtle biases that continue toward Black people.

So, what are we to make of the Mr. Floyd’s case? Where do we go from here? As fallout from this has unfolded over the past week or so, there are a few observations I’d like to make:

1. Video: the video is deeply disturbing, but what is equally as disturbing is that it seems to take a video like this to prove what African Americans have been saying for decades: Black people, especially Black men are often the victims of police harassment (and sometimes brutality) because they are Black.

This leads to the discussion of whether Black people are disproportionately the victims of police brutality and killing. People often cite statistics that indicate that such is not the case. However, like so many other things, the devil is in the details. See here, here, and here.  Maybe I’m wrong, but, it seems to me that that there are many variables that are not factored into statistics, and there are some things that statistics can’t measure.

Even if we take those statistics at face value though, other statistics show why there is a trust gap that many Black people have with regards to law enforcement.  That trust gap didn’t just materialize by accident.  Let me put it to you like this: if you’re pulled over by a cop, will you be more comfortable in that situation if you’re White, or Black? I hope you realize that is a rhetorical question-or at least should be.

If you’re not convinced by that, consider this article that puts the systemic nature of the problem in perspective: “Countless studies have also shown that black people are much more likely to be pulled over and searched for drugs, even though nearly every study on the subject also found that searches of white people are more likely to turn up contraband. (Even when force isn’t used, one study of traffic stop transcripts found that police, regardless of the officer’s race, use harsher language and are less respectful of blacks than of whites.). Black people are also much more likely to be arrested for both possession and distribution of illegal drugs, even though there’s ample data suggesting whites and blacks both use and sell drugs at about the same rateA 2017 NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation poll found that half of blacks said they had been unfairly stopped by a police officer. About 6 in 10 said they or a family member had. That means that if you know two black people, one of them feels they’ve been treated unfairly by police. Philando Castile, a legal gun owner who was shot and killed during a traffic stop despite by-the-book obedience, had previously been pulled over more than 50 times for petty traffic violations. Status offers little protection, whether you’re a professional tennis player, a fellow police officer, a district attorney or a Republican U.S. senator. According to a 2015 YouGov/Huffington Post poll, 74 percent of black parents had cautioned their children to be cautious around police, versus 32 percent of white parents. A 2016 Pew poll found that 7 in 10 white people thought police usually use the right amount of force, versus just 1 in 3 black people.”

That gives a much clearer picture of the issue. Focusing on questions of disproportional rates in terms of police brutality/killing of Black people may actually detract from the main issue, namely, how Black people in general are treated by police because they are Black. The data and the testimonials to that treatment are numerous and come from Black people from almost every walk of life.

Yes, there are many good police officers. I really believe we could say the overwhelming majority fit that category. But there are some that aren’t. And then there is bad policing policy in place that needs to be addressed, that still continues to be a concern. In terms of policy, this article states, “Focusing on racial bias also risks obscuring the fundamental problem: the Supreme Court has effectively given police a license to shoot, pummel, or falsely arrest ill-fated citizens across the nation.” The article is right to focus on the policy, but wrong to say that we shouldn’t focus on racial bias. We need to do both! This article provides one possible and very practical solution to the problem, as it addresses how police unions need to be reformed.

The sad reality is that it’s not enough for a Black person to say that they were harassed or treated cruelly—there has to be video documentation (and even when there is, it’s sometimes still not enough to ensure justice). Well, we have it now for those whose heads have been willfully buried in the sand. It can’t be ignored now, and yet, there are some who may still look for false rationalizations, “Well, what was that unarmed Black man doing that made these helpless armed men with badges do what they did?” This ties into the next observation:

2. Full investigation: This must happen, but, many suspect that the only reason it will happen is because there’s video of the incident. Without that, it would have been just another Black man getting what he evidently deserved for allegedly “resisting arrest.”

In terms of the basic facts, we don’t need to wait until there’s a full investigation to know that an unarmed Black man was handcuffed, put on the ground on his belly, face in the concrete, with a White thug dressed as a police officer burying his knee into the man’s neck, causing him to die. It doesn’t matter what Mr. Floyd was doing prior to that. What matters is what happened for 9 minutes when Mr. Floyd was on the ground. What caused so much frustration was that despite the video, some were saying that the reason arrests had not been made was because a full investigation (which could take months!) was needed. Thankfully, arrests have been made. Now a full investigation is needed to determine what level of murder charge will be leveled.

3. Protesting versus Rioting and Looting: Protesting is an American right. It is necessary in this case to give voice to our pain, mourning, frustration, and righteous anger. Many of the protests have gone well. Voices are being heard! Everyone except for the most hardened racist is in agreement over how tragic and outrageous this was, and how it can never happen again.

Rioting and looting on the other hand is wrong, dangerous, and adversely affects the community where those things take place, and should be strongly condemned, regardless of who is responsible for it. Sadly, some have capitalized on the situation, and have looted, and torched businesses, homes, and other places in some of these neighborhoods, usually ones that are predominately African American, destroying their economic well-being.

Some of this has been clearly organized beforehand. The source for some of these organized riots is traced to Antifa, and some say possibly White Supremacist groups. Whatever the case, we need to find out who is doing this, and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.  Protests should continue for as long as people want to continue them. Rioting and looting must stop now. We need leadership.

4. Related to this, some folks keep quoting MLK where he said that “a riot is the language of the unheard” in an effort to justify the riots, looting, and violence (where some have even been killed!) that has happened. With all due respect, please stop. MLK was not advocating rioting, looting and mob violence. His point was that we shouldn’t be surprised when people act that way when legitimate grievances are ignored with no justice. The righteous anger that manifests itself in peaceful protests could turn into unrighteous displays of rage and anarchy. To make matters worse in the current case, we know that there have been instigators who care nothing about George Floyd or racial justice, and are using this for their own wicked ends.

The point is that MLK, in that same speech, strongly condemned rioting and spoke of how counterproductive it is to the cause and only creates more problems as it brings unspeakable suffering in those neighborhoods. History  shows us that it takes decades for areas where riots take place, and businesses and neighborhoods are torched, to recover, and some never do.  So, please stop justifying the riots by quoting a man who condemned them! If we want to be true to his legacy, then we ought to condemn them just as he did because of they are lawless and destructive to innocent and vulnerable people.

On the flip side, I see White folks posting this meme that says “Looted nothing, burned nothing, attacked no one, changed the world” with a picture of MLK (and sometimes the pic is of him marching with his fellow protestors in suits and ties).

First, with all due respect, I realize it’s probably not your intent, but, this just comes off to me as a lecture: “Listen, you Black people, you need to know your place. Stop being so damned angry, dress right, and just calmly do what MLK did.” Of course, they fail to mention how White racists engaged in mob violence and attacked MLK and his fellow protestors even though they didn’t loot, burn anything, and attacked no one.

It also conveys a lack of empathy for the real and justifiable anger that protestors have, and fails to distinguish between the protestors and the rioters. If you can’t understand the righteous anger…then I would ask simply…why not?

As for changing the world, yes, there has been positive change. But, to say the world has been changed as if the problem of racism in our system has been eradicated is naïve at best, and willfully ignorant at worst, and it is why in fact that 53 years after MLK’s assassination (you do remember that part, right?), we are still dealing with many of the same issues.

If folks feel the need to quote MLK, it would be good if they actually took the time to read what he actually wrote, and not misrepresent him. If we’re concerned about the issues, we’d seek to understand why people are justifiably angry, why people are protesting (which is their constitutional right!), and why rioting ought to be condemned, not condoned.

5. Acknowledge what our African American brothers and sisters in the family of America feel and the reality of what they experience. Black people feel more threatened by police than White people do, and they have reason to feel that way. Here are three stories of Black men that give insight into how so many Black people feel and how they are so often looked at with suspicion just for being Black:

– The first account is from a Black man named Shola Richards who never walks in his own neighborhood unless he is accompanied by his daughter and their dog so that it is clear to everyone that he is not some kind of criminal.

Shola says, “When I’m walking down the street holding my young daughter’s hand and walking my sweet fluffy dog, I’m just a loving dad and pet owner taking a break from the joylessness of crisis homeschooling. But without them by my side, almost instantly, I morph into a threat in the eyes of some white folks. Instead of being a loving dad to two little girls, unfortunately, all that some people can see is a 6’2” athletically-built black man in a cloth mask who is walking around in a place where he doesn’t belong…It’s equal parts exhausting and depressing to feel like I can’t walk around outside alone, for fear of being targeted.”

-The next story is from a Black police officer named Justin Gay who speaks of how his experience in and out of uniform. Justin writes, “I make some people nervous when I’m off-duty in street clothes. I make some folks uneasy when I’m in uniform. I’ve been stereotyped by other races undeservingly. I’ve been accused of having a “fake badge” one time when I was in a heated confrontation & had to display it while off-duty, because apparently a black guy that looks like me can’t possibly be a cop.”

Next, I strongly encourage you to watch to this 16 minute speech from Senator Tim Scott. He spoke a couple of years ago of various encounters that he and others have had, to include how he had been pulled over 7 times in the course of 1 year by police.  His testimony is extremely powerful.

Finally, there’s the testimony of Christian hip-hop artist Shai Linne. Shai is a friend of mine who is a dear brother Christ. What he has to say is so heartbreaking, and I think powerfully sheds light on this issue: see here.

6. Realize that most police officers are honorable people who serve well and care deeply about the people in the communities they serve. They are just as disturbed at the incidents of police harassment and brutality as the rest of us are, and they too want justice.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

This is a picture of Officer Dave Bissonnette. Click here to see what he has to say.

We must pray for police officers everywhere who are performing a high stress job that involves personal risk, all at relatively low pay. Here is a video of the Middletown NY Police Department, where my wife is originally from, retaking their oath of office in the aftermath of Mr. Floyd’s death.

And then there’s these touching pictures:

7. Black people that I have known down through the years, and my Black family members, and I think it’s safe to say the overwhelming majority of African Americans, don’t want special treatment, just equal treatment. They recognize that there are many police officers that do live up to their call to protect and serve. They agree that Black people who break the law should suffer the appropriate consequences of the law…just not inappropriate and excessive consequences. They don’t want the police department defunded, as some are irrationally calling for, as that will greatly and adversely affect not just them, but all society. Rather, they want reform, accountability, and justice. They aren’t looking for White guilt, as if White people need to apologize for the color of their skin or confess sins they didn’t commit, which frankly rings a bit hollow, and doesn’t really change anything. What they want is for White folks to actually empathize and understand, and to not minimize or deny the real challenges that Black people face, and if they haven’t already, to embrace them fully as brothers and sisters in the American family.

Well, so much to say. I said earlier that I feel helpless, and I suppose that’s a good thing, because it reminds me that we really are powerless in ourselves to change anything. Laws are important, but, they don’t change hearts and minds. We’ve seen that. Nice sounding but empty platitudes won’t change hearts and minds. What I wrote in this post won’t change hearts and minds. Politics won’t change won’t change hearts and minds—as a matter of fact, politics often poisons things.

Our hope rests in the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth and the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, who alone transforms hearts and minds. He has the power to change murderous haters like a Jewish man named Saul of Tarsus into the apostle Paul, who brought the message of God’s love and hope in Christ to non-Jewish people—ones that he previously would never have even met with.

I pray, then, that God would bring comfort to the family of George Floyd. I pray that God would move powerfully so that justice would be served, and as we pray for justice, that our hearts would not be consumed with hatred toward those who killed Mr. Floyd, but that we would pray that God would bring them to repentance and faith in Christ. I pray that God would move powerfully to heal the deep wounds that so many of our Black brothers and sisters have due to racial bias.

I pray that God would bring healing and reconciliation to our land, and that He would move powerfully to bring about the biblical vision that MLK had, where people would no longer be judged on the basis of the color of their skin, but the content of their character.

I pray that people will come to see that we are all—whatever color or ethnicity—fearfully and wonderfully made and created in God’s image. I pray that God would remind us that while racism is a grievous sin, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory in so many ways, and every one of us is capable of any sin. But by God’s amazing grace alone, Christ suffered, bled and died on the cross for people from every nation, tribe and tongue, so that all who turn from their sin and trust in Christ alone can know the forgiveness of their sins and eternal life, and experience the transforming work of the Spirit in their lives.

I pray that Christians not remain silent, but that we raise our voices for the weak, the vulnerable, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, and those who experience injustice. I pray that we address any racism and soft bigotry and racially insensitive attitudes in our midst—judgment begins in our own house, and before we reach for the speck in the world’s eye, we must remove the planks from ours.  I pray that God grant us wisdom, enable us to live in a manner worthy of the gospel, and that we speak the truth of the gospel in a spirit of love, gentleness and respect, not only with those who look like us, but those who don’t. Heal us, O Lord, we ask and pray, in Christ’s name and through your Holy Spirit. Amen.

I leave you with this piece of music that for me captures the emotion and essence of everything I’ve written here: