“Laura and I are anguished by the brutal suffocation of George Floyd and disturbed by the injustice and fear that suffocate our country.” Thus begins a statement by President George W. Bush on Mr. Floyd’s death and its aftermath.
President Bush observes that “America’s greatest challenge has long been to unite people of very different backgrounds into a single nation of justice and opportunity.” The answer is “living up to American ideals—to the fundamental truth that all human beings are created equal and endowed by God with certain rights.”
In the president’s view, “Lasting peace in our communities requires truly equal justice. The rule of law ultimately depends on the fairness and legitimacy of the legal system. And achieving justice for all is the duty of all.”
How can each of us do our duty?
“Creating havoc on the streets”
This week, we have sought to follow Jesus’ wisdom in responding to Mr. Floyd’s horrific death and its aftermath in our nation.
On Monday, we discussed Jesus’ relevance to this crisis and his call to love as we wish to be loved. On Tuesday, following the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we determined not to return violence for violence but to seek justice for all. Yesterday, we responded to Rep. John Lewis’s call to “be constructive, not destructive.”
Today, let’s discuss further the violence of these days and the issues underlying this crisis.
We’ll begin with the fact that those who are committing violence in response to George Floyd’s death are a decided minority. It is no more fair to blame all demonstrators for these acts than it is to blame all police officers for Mr. Floyd’s horrendous death.
In addition, many who are instigating violence are hijacking the demonstrations for their own agendas. Antifa—an often-violent far-left group—has been implicated, as have white supremacists and far-right groups.
Mike Griffin, a longtime activist in Minneapolis, said: “I know protests, I’ve been doing it for twenty years. People not affiliated with the protests are creating havoc on the streets.” He pointed to well-dressed young white men in expensive boots carrying hammers and talking about torching buildings.
Bestselling author Nancy French took her children to the demonstrations in Nashville last weekend, where she observed that “without question, the most hysterical and fury-filled people I witnessed were white.”
What’s different this time?
It is important to understand the events of recent days, but it is also vital to understand their causes.
Harvard Divinity School professor Cornel West warns: “If we’re more concerned about the property and spillover than the poverty, decrepit school systems, dilapidated housing, massive unemployment and underemployment, then we’re going to be doing this every five, every ten, every twenty years.”
Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, journalist Kevin Fagan quotes Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, who explains why this week’s response has been so explosive. She notes that Mr. Floyd’s death follows those of Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, and many other African American victims. It comes at a time when black people are quarantined at home; many have lost their jobs; they are being infected with COVID-19 at higher numbers than others; and many have jobs that require them to work and be exposed to the virus.
The article further states that even before the pandemic, income had remained largely flat among low-wage workers, many of whom are people of color. And social media video has emerged to validate accusations of police misconduct, often against black people.
“There’s no such thing as being not racist”
These explanations help, but the fact is, white Americans like me cannot truly understand the African American experience. As I stated earlier this week, I have never experienced racial, economic, or judicial system discrimination. I would guess that many of you are like me.
To that end, I would like to recommend some resources I have discovered this week:
- A comprehensive study of racism with regard to education, health care, and society.
- The Barna Group’s in-depth study of US Christian responses to racism.
- A practical list of ten actions white people can take in their workplace to promote racial justice.
- An outstanding response with practical imperatives from an African American leader I know personally and respect greatly.
Of course, the most significant and transforming wisdom we can seek comes from the Lord Jesus. Across this week, we have focused on his command, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). A dear friend responded to one of my articles on this text with the observation that Judaism and other religions couch this statement in the negative: do not do what you do not want done to yourself. Jesus was unique in making his command positive and proactive.
As my friend notes, this difference is especially important in the context of racism. If I had been in Minneapolis and saw what was happening to George Floyd, the negative Golden Rule would not have obligated me to intervene. But Jesus’ expression does.
Consider this powerful statement by Ibram X. Kendi, executive director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center: “There’s no such thing as being ‘not racist.’ We are either being racist or antiracist.”
Which will you be today?