George Floyd

“They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to false gods,
shedding innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters,
sacrificing them to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.
They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.”

Psalm 106: 37-39

On May 25, 2020, at 8:08pm, Minneapolis Police Officers J Alexendar Kueng and Thomas Lane receive a call about someone using a counterfeit $20 bill. Please note this is a non-violent crime, and it is difficult to know if Floyd was using the bills knowing they were counterfeit. The Officers find George Floyd in a car with two passengers. Upon George-Floyd-Wallpaperapproaching the car, Lane immediately points his gun at Floyd who puts his hands on the steering wheel. He is asked to get out of the car and he complies and, after being handcuffed behind his back, at their direction, sits on the ground. He is described, and seen in video, as calm.

At 8:14, the officers attempt to move Floyd to the back of a squad car. Floyd says he is very claustraphobic and wants to comply, but is having difficulty. He says he’s trying not resist, but can’t get into the back seat. At some point in the next few minutes, Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao arrive on the scene and force Floyd into the back of the squad car.

At 8:19, Chauvin forceably pulls Floyd out of the car, whereupon he falls, face first, into the pavement (because his hands are behind his back). While Keung holds onto Floyd’s back, Lane restrains Floyd’s legs. They consider using a “hobble restraint” but opt not to use it. Instead, Chauvin forces his left knee into Floyd’s neck. Floyd begins to be more distressed, screaming “I can’t breathe” calling out “Mama please” and eventually says, matter-of-factly, “I’m going to die.”

By this point onlookers have gathered, and video is being taken. Chauvin’s response to Floyd’s pleas are “You are talking fine.” This indicating the (mistaken) belief that if someone can talk they get enough oxygen. Shortly after, Lane asks Chauvin if they should roll Floyd onto his side, to which Chauvin responds that he’s “staying put where we got him.”

At 8:24 Floyd’s “slight movements” slow and then stop altogether.

At 8:25, it becomes clear that Floyd is no longer breathing at all. Lane again asks for Floyd to be rolled onto his side, Chauvin does not respond. Keung checks for a pulse and https _cdn.cnn.com_cnnnext_dam_assets_200604092316-02-george-floyd-police-mugshotscannot find one.

At 8:27, TWO MINUTES AFTER it was known he had no pulse, an ambulance arrives and then Chauvin removes his knee.

All four officers were fired. All four have since been charged. The Police union is actively opposing these actions and attempting to paint Floyd as a violent criminal of whom these officers were to be scared.


Breonna Taylor

“Do not shed innocent blood in the land which YHWH, your God, is giving you as an inheritance, lest the blood guilt be upon all of you”

Deuteronomy 19:10

On March 12, 2020, Breonna Taylor, an ER Tech and former EMT, went sleep in her bed next to her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, in Louisville, Kentucky. In a different part of town, police secure two separate “no-knock” warrants. One for a somewhat well known location where drugs are passed around, and one for Taylor’s apartment, naming Taylor specifically. It is now clear that the second warrant was entirely a mistake.

Shortly after midnight on March 13, Taylor and Walker were awakened by loud banging on their door. Both called out into the darkness, trying to ascertain what had happened, only to be met with silence. While the police dispute what happened next, the neighbors in the apartments surrounding Taylor’s seem to corroborate Kenneth Walker’s account. The13louisville-1-superJumbo-v2 police use a battering ram to break open the door, at which point Walker, who is a registered and licensed gun owner, and who had awakened to unidentified intruder’s breaking into the apartment after midnight, grabs his registered weapon and fires a single shot, that hits an one police officer in the thigh. Police return fire in what is described as “a hail of bullets” leaving Breonna Taylor dead, having been shot multiple times (“at least 8 times”), despite being completely unarmed and not even affiliated with the drug ring police were attempting to find. The apartment next door, where a pregnant mother with her 5 year old were, had multiple bullet fragments as did the upstairs apartment.

This happened on March 13, 2020. Originally, police claimed Walker had killed Breonna. When that did not match any of the evidence, they charged Walker with attempted murder of a police officer. The three officers who entered Taylor’s apartment have been placed on (paid) administrative leave. No charges have been filed. No state or local investigations have begun. One FBI investigation was recently announced, but expectations are low that anything will be done. No drugs were ever recovered from her apartment.

Ahmaud Arbery

“Their feet run to evil,
They are quick to shed innocent blood.
Their thoughts are thoughts of sin
Their highways are devastation and destruction.”

Isaiah 59:7

On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery put on some workout clothes, and went for a run in Glynn County Georgia. According to those close to him, this was not unusual in the least. As someone who runs with frequency, I get it. Most, but perhaps not all, runners are creatures of habit. You have to have strong habits in order to train for anything. Whether it is preparing for a race, trying to lose weight, or just trying to be fit, you get up multiple times a week and run. You need that.

merlin_171704250_9351ea8c-9a44-4ed2-8057-50cbee202fcd-superJumboProbably because the aforementioned consistency can be so boring, runners on the whole tend to be curious. Most of us don’t like to run the same loop 20 times, every day, without change. So we will explore new routes. We’ll run through somewhat familiar territory, make little changes along the way. If we see something new or different, that curiosity takes over and we’ll often go an examine it.

This is why, as a runner, it was not at all surprising that Arbery would go to a home under construction, when no crews were there, to take a quick look around. A lot of it is human nature.

At some point later, at least two white men, one of whom was a former police officer and current (at the time) investigator for the police, George McMichael, along with his son, Travis, found out that a black man was running near their street. The McMichaels had their truck broken into not too long before this incident, but had no lead on who had committed the break-in. They grabbed their guns, jumped into a truck, and sought to find this black man, Ahmaud Arbery. At some point William “Roddie” Bryan was enlisted by the McMichaels to assist in detaining Arbery. It is unclear what their relationship was, or what let Bryan to assist them. The McMichaels’ original story was that they were attempting to detain Arbery because they believe he was responsible for a “string of burglaries” in the area. The only reported burglary had been the breaking into the McMichaels truck. They did not know (despite current claims) that Arbery had entered a construction site, nor were any of these individuals police.

The McMichaels and Bryan caught up to Arbery and these three men, two of them armed, in their vehicles, demanded that Arbery stop. Again, as a runner, it is terrifying enough running down a road when a car tries to pass you a little bit too closely (there’s so much extra road over there), that I can only begin to imagine what a black man, in Georgia, being chased by multiple vehicles, one with two armed white men demand I stop, would have thought. I’m sure he knew he was probably going to die the moment they told him to stop.

After unsuccessfully trying to get away, and being pinned by two vehicles (that were not afraid to drive off the street toward him), Arbery changed from flight to fight. As Travis McMichael ran out of his truck, gun pointed at him, Arbery fought back. It was likely his best (if incredibly slim) chance of survival. Travis McMichael shot him multiple times (not just once), then stood over his lifeless body and delcared “F****ng n****r.” It’s important to note that Michael’s lawyers do not dispute that he said that. They merely try to excuse it as part of the culture in the region (akin to saying “he can’t be racist if the whole culture is racist.”).

That happened on February 23. Multiple DAs refused to look into the case. For months, nothing happened. The crime could be seen on video. No one did anything. It was not until April that anything began to happen. Since then, and most especially since the George Bureau of Investigation took over, all three men have been arrested.

Why is this different?

“But your eyes and your heart are intent solely upon your own dishonest gain and on the shedding of innocent blood and on oppressing and extortion.”

-Jeremiah 22:17

To start, we need to see why this time at least feels different. It’s still too early to see if the current protests will result in any lasting change, but it could start something, and begin to move it forward. The protests at least feel different. So the first question many will ask is “why?”

This is not the first time a black man or woman has been killed. This is not the first time the person committing murder was a white police officer. This is not even the first time it has been caught on video. The death of Eric Garner was so eerily similar to that of George Floyd. He was approached by police for a non-violent crime and killed by asphyxiation (Garner’s and Floyd’s words “I can’t breathe” even became a battle cry both times). This is not even the first time such events have happened in such rapid succession. So what makes this different?

Part of it has to do with our news cycle. With the ubiquity of mobile phones, where everyone has ready access to instant video making and watching, together with the need for a 24 hour news cycle tailored to your particular interests, there has been an overflowing amount of news over the past few years. It is impossible to take it all in. Then, in March, the Coronavirus began to dominate the news. So much so that it drowned everything else out.

Further, as the world collectively began to shut down, it seemed to many that very little of note was occurring outside of the pandemic. The only thing that broke through all of that, it seems, were the stories of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. While similar stories had happened in the past, and had even happened in rapid succession, this was the first time that, it seemed, there was little else to drown it out.

Beyond that, the ubiquity of mobile phone video, and how people have become more adapt at shooting live video with them, meant that responses to protests (which in many cases mirrored the same brutality the protesters had organized against) were widely

protesters holding signs

visible, fueling the protests rather than quashing them.

All of these factors coalesced to make this, at least for the moment, feel substantively different. God’s indictment against Israel for its oppression and extortion of the vulnerable seemed to suddenly be more applicable in America to so many people for the first time, while being a familiar refrain to others whose protest the first group joined.


Blood on our hands

An earlier version of this pay was mistakenly published early

Then YHWH said to Cain “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know” answered Cain, “Does my brother, the keeper of sheep, need a keeper?”

YHWH replied, “What have you done? Can’t you hear it? Your brother’s blood is screaming out to me from the ground!”

–Genesis 4:9-10

I’ve struggled to write this post. On the one hand, I’ve felt so inadequately placed to even begin to address the issues surrounding the most recent series of murders of Black men and women at the hands of current or former police officers: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. I had originally planned to write about Ahmaud Arbery, and then the news of Breonna Taylor came out. I thought to write about what happened there and the challenge it presents the Church. Then the video of George Floyd being murdered before us by an officer of the state was posted.

I will not be posting that video here. It is shocking, it is uneasy, it is also far too common. A High School classmate of mine, who now teaches rhetoric, has spoken about the uneasy tension such videos have. On the one hand, people want to be informed, and they should know what’s happening. On the other, the history of public lynching in the US gives the viewing of the video an even darker tone than it had before. Make no mistake, when you saw the video, you saw a man being murdered. So what do we say to that?

I am not a black. I am an almost middle-aged, white man who grew up in the American Southwest. My college education was primarily in the American Southwest and South. As a result, I recognize I am ill-equipped to approach this topic. So I’ve been listening.

person s hands covered with blood

I’ve pointed people to other resources, to black authors, especially those in the Black Theology and Womanist Theology traditions. I’ll continue to do so (James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree should be required reading for whites in churches and Delores S Williams’s Sisters in the Wilderness for all men). Before I get too far into this, I want to be clear: this is the perspective of one white man. I can only lisp where others, due to their education and experience, are better equipped to speak.

Despite this, I recognize that while it is tantamount that priority and preference be given to black voices above white voices like mine, it is also extremely important that I not be completely silent in these conversations. With that in mind, I will not be entirely silent. This is partly so people of color might know they are not standing alone. Whatever privilege I inherited by virtue of my birth and history, I hope to use in order to lift up black voices.

Also, I am still learning. I will never not be learning. I may falter and fall. But I won’t let fear of failure keep me from adding my voice to the voices of many others.

Above all else, I would hope my white friends would hear this: it is not enough to simply not be a racist.

You must move toward being anti-racist. That journey starts with listening, recognition and educating yourself. I hope to contribute to that process. I hope that, together, we might learn to listen.

As God declared to Cain, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me”. The implication is that Cain should be able to hear the blood cry out too, if only he tried to listen. By not listening, Cain continues to do violence to Abel. In the same way, even though we may not have performed an explicitly racist act, even though you were not the cop with his knee on George Floyd’s neck, by not listening, by not letting the blood of the black saints cry out to you from the ground, you perpetuate the violence against them. All of those unjustly slain as part of system set up to keep them down. So I hope to acknowledge, on the one hand, the blood on my own hands, and to give voice, on the other, to the blood that cries out.

For those of you still with me, I’m going to start next time by examining these most recent cases.