Once again, the country saw a white police officer hold a handcuffed black man to the ground who kept saying, “I can’t breathe.” The last time these words echoed in the national consciousness it was Eric Garner who died in New York from a policeman’s chokehold. This time it was George Floyd who died in Minneapolis because the officer kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck until too much of the air was gone. Their last words, “I can’t breathe,” must never be forgotten.
In Georgia, Ahmaud Arbery was shot by two white men when he was jogging in his own neighborhood. In Louisville, Breonna Taylor was shot eight times by police officers in her home. And now George Floyd. The cumulative effect of these deaths leaves us reeling.
What also cannot be forgotten is that George Floyd and Eric Garner and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and too many of their brothers and sisters who’ve suffered unjust and untimely deaths are far more than their last words. They were beautiful people made in the image of God, deserving of dignity and respect. They leave behind cherished family and friends. Their gifts, joys, and aspirations have been extinguished in a grievous way that is an affront to civil and divine justice and surely grieves the heart of God.
And across the country and throughout this nation’s history, millions more who are not in the daily headlines know the pain and the fear of having gifts and aspirations and the mundane routines of daily life curtailed by racism and injustice.
This is cause for outrage. In Minneapolis and across the country, protests bear witness to the deep pain and righteous anger within our nation, not only for justice denied today but for the insidious legacy of racism that continues to choke the black community.
For centuries our white dominated society has systemically made it so hard for blacks to breathe fully. Systems of oppression manifest in marginalized neighborhoods where children grow up with severely limited opportunities and boundless reasons for despair, in disproportionate rates of incarceration, and as we just saw again, in some being shot or strangled by those who took an oath to protect them.
As a white man, I cannot fully understand or know the depth of pain that this creates. But I can acknowledge my own complicity in these systems, and join with black siblings in Christ who have had to fight far too long for justice and dignity.
This struggle for justice must continue until every cherished human being created in the image of God can fully breathe in all of the opportunities of life.