You want to know why cities burn?
Floyd’s death: Jarring, Breath-Taking, Cruel.
I’ve seen a lot of people die, given the pastoral calling to attend to birth and death, and all the important milestones of life in between, but there was something jarring, let me say breath-taking, about watching George Floyd being crushed under the knee of a uniformed Minneapolis police officer. The callousness or cruelty, the malice or apathy, the sheer, uniformed brutality of listening to a strapping grown man call out for his mama… It is a sound I will never forget.
Please, God, let it be a sound our nation never forgets.
If White people cannot understand the rage that has erupted across the nation, we simply are not listening. No one that I know condones violence and destruction, becoming in response like that which is being protested – but we should understand the protests, the anger that too easily turns violent.
The factors that fuel these fires are not the musings of a liberal pastor, anecdotes twisted for politically correct rhetorical purpose. The factors that smolder under the surface until the murder of another unarmed brother fans them into rage, well, they aren’t really factors at all. They are just facts.
In every measurable category, African Americans – as a matter of fact – are treated as less than their white counterparts.
-Discrimination in housing, unfair lending practice for mortgage and business loans, educational opportunity…
-The NFL and NBA have been majority black for many years, yet there are still only a handful of Black owners and coaches.
-There are fewer acting jobs for people of color, directing jobs, producing jobs. The number of Academy Awards presented to people of color pales in comparison to white actors.
-The decimation of the black community by mass incarceration is one of the great sins of our generation – the rates of incarceration for blacks being far greater than for their white counterparts, across the criminal justice system, for every level of crime. From marijuana possession to capital murder, blacks are pursued more aggressively and punished more harshly than whites. Look at the data.
-Black mothers die in childbirth far more often than white mothers, because black women are routinely provided substandard care – even by black doctors.
-In the tragic 112,000+ deaths we are lamenting due to the coronavirus, a disproportionate number belong to the African-American community, because people of color present with more complicating factors. Due to a host of issues, including the basic stress of life, our black sisters and brothers often are less healthy in general.
-Every black man I know has been followed around a store by a security guard and stopped in his car for “Driving While Black.”
-All my black friends have known the sad experience of giving “The Talk,” especially to their black sons, “…so you don’t get killed if you get stopped for a traffic violation…” I cannot imagine.
-Add all of these up, and then add insult to injury with all the jokes and insults, the subtle put-downs, the assumptions and stereotypes that follow people of color their whole lives.
And you want to know why cities burn?
Speaking on CNN just as protests erupted across the country, Van Jones said it this way:
In order for [that] level of contempt for life… to take place in broad daylight with officers and bystanders and nothing be done, that’s the tip of a very big iceberg of disrespect of contempt for life and a pattern… from coast to coast… [and] in this case, he’s not running… does not have a weapon. In this case… he’s begging for his mother and nothing is done…
That doesn’t happen out of the clear blue sky. You build up to that level of contempt, you build up to that level of dehumanization and desensitization and you’re now witnessing the outcome of that, of all these other little incidents… Until you finally have a culture of contempt for black life at the highest levels, and that’s what you’re seeing. So this is not going to be fixed by legislation…
So, what is going to fix it?
Tough talk? Harsh rhetoric? Tougher policing? Mandatory sentencing? A renewal of the war on drugs? Dominating the streets? Law and Order?
It was Law and Order that crushed the life out of George Floyd in the broad daylight of a Minnesota May. It is Law and Order that stokes the flames and reveals the heart of our original sin of racism. We don’t need Law and Order. We need the wind of a new Spirit.
Compassion… Understanding… Admitting complicity... Taking responsibility... Humility... Listening... Learning... Creativity... Imagination… Trust… Courage… Vision… Action…
Law and Order is the problem. The wind of a new Spirit is the answer.
If you’re paying any attention, you can see it blowing, even now.
(Dr. Russ Dean is a graduate of Clinton High School. He and his wife, Rev. Amy Jacks Dean, also a CHS graduate, are co-pastors of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte.)