The George Floyd Story and Others
By Rev. Earnestine Campbell
The recent killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African American male in Minneapolis, Minn., by white police officers, has retriggered the awareness of killings of black males by police officers. The tragic killing on May 25 has incited peaceful protests across the nation and abroad and, at the same time there have, unfortunately, been those who have used the protests for violence, looting, and destruction. Even with this, however, the focus must not be lost on the real issue of these tragedies that torment the black communities, especially males and other marginalized communities and persons.
Mr. Floyd was killed after being arrested for allegedly trying to use a $20 counterfeit bill in the store. Four police officers arrived to arrest Mr. Floyd. They obtained, handcuffed him, and then an officer planted his knee on his neck while he was on the ground for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd called out for mercy, saying he could not breathe, and eventually called on his late mother. The police officer, Derek Chauvin, continued to press the weight of his body, his knee, on the delicate part of a human’s body, the neck of Mr. Floyd, as though he had won a prized kill. Several videotapes from different angles have shown the public killing, and some still want to justify and make fun of his death.
This murder is not an unprecedented event for the black and marginalized communities. George Floyd is one of the countless black males and females and other minorities who have suffered at the hands of police or the dominant culture as perpetrators that have illegally and abusively exercised illegitimate powers and inhumane acts. As much as some may respond, including government officials and law enforcement agencies, that these situations are based on provocation and warranted for murdering these lives of the marginalized and those who appear to be voiceless. However, our nation’s history proves that differently, and our penal system incarcerates blacks at a higher rate and longer sentencing for similar crimes.
Earlier this month, Ahmaud Arbery, in Brunswick, Ga., was the victim of racism by the dominant culture. These Caucasian males say he was a threat to their neighborhood. Ahmaud’s gunmen murdered him with a shotgun while the gunman’s father rode in the bed of the truck. Another caucasian male filmed while they hunted him and killed him. This event is reminiscent of black men being hunted with pickup trucks, dogs, hung or brutally beaten, shot, and thrown in a river like 14-year-old Emmitt Till in 1955.
Other recent killings by police officers are Breonna Taylor – shot multiple times; Eric Garner – put in a chokehold as he said, “I can’t breathe;” Michael Brown – unarmed, shot six times; Trayvon Martin – innocently killed by an American citizen because of racism; Kenneth Walker - killed by a police officer shot in the head while lying on the ground in handcuffs. There are so many examples of these murders. The list goes on and on.
Contrastly, Dylann Roof, a white male, killed nine black parishioners during Bible Study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. After fleeing for a few days and being at-large, Roof was safely arrested and taken to a fast-food restaurant for food comfort before being taken to jail. The parallel made is not to advocate for the killing of Roof, the murderer and assailant that killed the God-fearing Christians of Emmanuel, but to point to the difference of a white male that murdered nine innocent black people and how he survived the police without incident upon arrest. There are many incidents where nothing is done before the perpetrator is arrested. Through this comparative lens, the narrative must be told so that this culture will be exposed, deconstructed, and reconstructed for good.
These predators have inflicted brutality upon the black community through slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crowe Laws, the Civil Rights Movement, and into this post-civil-rights movement. These are the systemic racism, oppression, and societal issues that harbor and breed these types of horrific acts, maintain marginalization and keep voices of justices, equality, and equity crippled and immobilized. These devastating acts run so deeply that when we see the public videos of incidence we see the messages: “hands up” means, “don’t shoot;” “I can’t breathe” means “you got me;” “don’t shoot” means “I surrender. Whether guilty of a “crime” or not, these are life-saving pleas to the huntsmen. Unfortunately, they are pleas that go unheard so often from blacks and other marginalized voices.
Systematic racism and injustices need to be dismantled and deconstructed for equality and safety to exist. Corporate America, church organizations, and other institutions can no longer hide behind structures that have existed since slavery to keep people of color out or marginalized. Having a majority from the dominant culture serving as CEOs, COOs, board members, Episcopal offices, conference and district levels, and local church leaders in multicultural churches maintains systematic racism and discriminatory behavior that perpetuates and maintain the status quo. Gatekeepers of information that do not include people of color are ways that perpetuate racism and acts of disparage because similar minds align with how and what information can be disseminated. When systems are created and formulated and persons of color are not at the “table,” it leaves the voiceless unrepresented and shows that privilege exists. Diversity needs to be included not only in race issues but in all facets of ministry. Dr. Martin Luther King calls this the “Beloved Community.”
I am reminded of a social media post from a Caucasian South Georgia UMC clergy that points to this expression of Beloved Community: “If you are speaking without listening to black voices right now, then maybe reevaluate who you are siding with and what you are standing for.”
The voices of black people must be heard during these times of crisis. Training must be done in our church organization that includes cultural, racial, and leadership training. These should be led or co-led by ethnic persons. Persons and leaders with privilege are less effective alone in deconstructing and reconstructing systematic racial issues because they are on the outside looking in. It is a compromised situation when those leading are similar in culture and experiences of the majority, leaving black and brown voices void, unheard, and unsupported.
Talking about racism in America does not mean that all are racist. Black, brown, and white are standing together in solidarity for justice and civil rights. There are many police officers with integrity who believe in equality and justice and put their lives on the line daily for our safety. We salute you. There are elected officials who are voices for the voiceless and govern and legislate with integrity. We salute you. There are many United Methodists who stand for social justice and Christian principles. We salute you and are proud to be United Methodists. True patriotism to our country and reverence to God is the act of the love of God and the love of humanity and not racism, violence, and systematic oppression. It is the epitome of “united we stand, divided we fall.”
Let’s remember and enact John Wesley’s Three Simple Rules: Do Good, Do No Harm, and Stay in Love with God.
Our Conference’s Multiculturalism Task Force was formed in 2017 to help raise awareness and increase our understanding of multiculturalism and racism. Last year, this group released a Resource Guide
along with a series of videos
. I encourage you to use the resources in your local setting. Please reach out to me (email@example.com
) if I can help resource you further.