Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan Jr.
George Floyd: One Year Later
As a pastor for nearly 38 years, I have officiated the funeral services of many congregants and members of various communities in which I have lived. In every case, the people whose final services were under my care were loved by their families, neighbors, co-workers, and neighbors. In an attempt to somehow make sense of sad or troubling circumstances surrounding the demise of their loved ones, many people would automatically conclude that God must have wanted their loved ones to depart their early realm for the splendor of heaven. To them, this meant that God made the unfair, pain-inflicting, and logic-defying decision to take their loved ones away from them. Now, I have never pretended to understand the mysteries behind wellness and illness or life and death. Even so, I have never believed that God was the designer of misery and the engineer of death. Instead, I have believed and still believe that God does not cancel and revoke lives but instead creates and redeems lives while providing dignity-infused, non-negotiable love for each and every person. One year ago, Mr. George Perry Floyd, Jr., a Black man who was loved by his family and friends, and a human being who like all of us was a recipient of the love God, was murdered by now former police officer Derek Chauvin, a now convicted and imprisoned person whose job ironically was to protect and to serve the public as authorized by the City of Minneapolis. Theologically speaking, I do not believe George Floyd’s death was canceled or revoked by God, and I do not believe that a divinely powered stopwatch somewhere in the heavens indicated it was his time to die. I will not attribute George Floyd’s death to being consistent with the will of God. Instead, I believe that any honest review of both historical and current American institutional and social life will announce with absolute clarity that George Floyd’s death was the direct result of structural and sinful racism as crafted, perfected, and weaponized in the United States of America. While significant numbers of people believe that the signs and symbols of racism are limited to the use of racial slurs and burning crosses, a growing number of our neighbors who are unmuting themselves are acknowledging the fact that like bleach in water, racism is a corrosive influencer that works to cancel and revoke the God-given dignity of Black people and all People of Color. It is the corrosive influencer behind policies that create poverty, inadequate education, redlining, gerrymandering, voter suppression, protest banning, and lethal policing. To my knowledge, former officer Derek Chauvin neither burned a cross nor used a racial slur when he murdered George Floyd. However, I believe that that the bleach-like corrosive influencer, American racism, conditioned him to believe that in general, Black lives do not matter, and in particular, George Floyd’s life as a Black man did not matter. Racism and the adjoined and intoxicating sense of privilege conferred upon him as a White man authorized Derek Chauvin to viciously and arrogantly cancel and revoke George Floyd’s life by intentionally kneeling on his neck for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds, a murder that could be fairly described as a lynching. So, one year later, where are we? As reported in Newsweek magazine, the Mapping Police Violence database reports that 229 Black people have been killed by police officers since Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd. This number would include at least three police killings of Black people in Ohio. The database’s co-founder, Samuel Sinyangwe, indicated that this total is probably lower than the actual number of officer-involved killings of Black people. Whatever the actual number is, it is obscene. As a person of Christian faith who lives and works within and among contexts that involve Christians and neighbors professing different faiths, I believe the fundamental questions before us now are: If we believe that the corrosive influencer, American racism, as detected in many public policies and institutions, and witnessed through the unjust and needless officer-initiated cancelation and revocation of Black lives is inconsistent with the will of God, what do we do now? If we truly believe that Black, Brown, Native, and Asian lives matter to God and to us, what do we do now? What does the love of God compel us to do now? Here are some suggestions:
We must be willing to be quoted on the public record that we believe the unjust and needless officer-initiated killing of Black lives is inconsistent with the will of God;
We must proclaim that racism is sin in the eyes of God, and that public policy measures designed to deny or discount its historical presence, practice, function, and impact are dishonest and counterproductive;
We must publicly label colorblindness as a sign of both an abdication of leadership and cooperation with injustice, while declaring emphatically that Black Lives Matter; Brown Lives Matter; Native Lives Matter; and Asian Lives Matter;
We must insist that Americans who work to loosen the grip that racism has on American institutions and policies while calling for just and equitable policies consistent with the United States Constitution be identified as patriots;
As compelled by the love of God, we call for the transformation of policing, a process through which communities embrace an anti-racist and anti-oppressive vision for all institutions, including those responsible for pubic safety, while enacting accountability-driven law enforcement policies and practices through which officers are equipped and expected to honor, serve, and protect all people regardless of race, zip code, sex, mental health status, gender, language, sexual orientation, physical condition, or age.
As motivated by compassion, we will embrace and comfort the families of those whose loved ones were unjustly and needlessly killed by law enforcement officers.
Of course, while we call for these measures, we as people of faith must be prepared to work alongside people of different faiths and people of conscience in who are committed to ushering in the just and equitable future that People of Color and all people deserve and must have, regardless of zip code, if our country’s defining documents are to be taken seriously. These measures must become compass-setting values that set the tone and cadence for how we live among one another, for as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed in his iconic Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” When we practice justice and implement equity, we will be able to say with moral clarity and ethical credibility, we are all in this together. Amen With Hope, Jack The Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr. Executive Director