The hard part comes now.
Obviously, I have a major commitment to writing every week in this space. I try to write from a mystic’s perspective and I’m committed to integrating real-time current events into each week’s writing. However, I don’t fancy myself as a columnist per se. Still, I do think I have gained (by dark difficult experience) an empathy for a major difficulty in being a columnist. Namely, dealing with current events and facts that, as former president Obama observed, “shouldn’t be normal,” and yet are all too routine.
The last time the ugly reality of the U.S.’s original sin and it’s legacy raised it’s head, I listed and linked the previous (six) pieces I’d written these past two years treating the evil of white supremacy and the rotten fruits of racism (see here). Those different looks at this dreadful reality are still back there and they all relate—I won’t rehearse those arguments again here now, although I hope we don’t miss that the trauma we’re talking about in this ongoing conversation is cumulative.
A clergy colleague posted a powerful reflection last Wednesday that prophetically questioned the incessantly repeated display of images and video depicting violence being done to black and brown bodies. He dubbed it the pornography of violence. Not the violence of pornography we’ve long understood. Rather, he’s talking about using the repetitive reporting on violence done to black and brown people to dehumanize them. Whether to make money, as do media outlets, or as a call for justice, the intense repetition of video and violent imagery takes a traumatic toll that is cumulative. Thank G-d we have the video and images in these cases nowadays. However, it’s exploitation as a pornography of violence is potentially a further traumatizing of a racially broken society. [For those on Facebook, I can connect you with Rev. Folkerth’s powerful meditation. I urge you to read his post. (see here).]
In frustration I wrote this on Thursday morning and posted it to my Facebook:
All four of these police officers ought to be arrested and placed in jail right now as the details of this are sorted out.
I still stand solidly by this. As this publishes, of the four policemen, only the arresting officer, Officer Chauvin, has been charged.
As I do try to write from a mystic’s perspective we have spent some time in this space contemplating the sacred primacy of breath. The Biblical narrative tells us that G-d’s Ruach, Spirit, or breath, is the Holy Spirit that animates and orders Christ’s cosmos. In human terms, G-d’s breath animates us. On my reckoning, our ‘breath’ may be likened with ‘soul.’ I’ve described the human soul as the tangible point of intersection between the sacred and the mundane, the point of direct interface we as persons have in common with the Divine. Our breathing is a sacrament in the sense of it making that which is invisible visible, the meeting of sense and soul.
Prophecy times two
The Professor of New Testament at Saint Paul School of Theology (when I studied there), Dr. Warren Carter, had a running joke that all his students knew well:
“If they repeat it, it’s important. If they repeat it.”
He was referring to texts and patterns in scripture. I feel it also applies to history and the voice of the oppressed.
“I can’t breathe!” —Eric Garner (2014).
“I can’t breathe!” —George Floyd (2020).
This week, a death sentence was levied and executed against Mr. Floyd for allegedly trying to pass a fake twenty dollar bill while black. In the earlier example, a death sentence was levied and executed against Mr. Garner for alleged illegal loose-cigarettes sales while black.
Last Monday George Floyd’s cry fell on the deaf ears of four Minneapolis police officers.
What is it that makes it possible for multiple police officers in these two examples to somehow discount and dismiss this most elemental visceral cry for help?
Is it that somehow since this desperate “I can’t breath” cry is coming from black and brown bodies then it needn’t be perceived as urgent, or even be taken seriously?
Do the wildly aggressive and violent humiliation and control measures these officers obviously felt justified in using somehow prevent them from being human themselves? Somehow prevent their human ears from hearing Mr. Floyd’s human voice desperately crying, “I can’t breathe!” He also cried out loudly to his dead mother.
It causes me to weep. It causes me to scream!!!
Leadership: Biden vs Trump
I’m grateful the former vice president, Joe Biden, felt moved to make these remarks about the Floyd killing for the record:
“The original sin of this country still stains our nation today. And sometimes we manage to overlook it, we just push forward with a thousand other tasks in our daily life. But it’s always there. … None of us can any longer, can we hear the words, ‘I can’t breathe,’ and do nothing.” —Joe Biden
Meanwhile, President Trump tweeted this message very late on Thursday:
We notice, too, it was a very big week in the Twitter world. Twitter CEO @jack (Jack Dorsey) took bold and important steps this week adding ‘violence’ warnings (see above), and ‘fact-check’ warnings and links to reliable information, directly on Trump’s more egregious tweets. The Troll-in-Chief got trolled, Big Time! Hey now, Jack Dorsey, good on ya! Hold on tight @jack, I feel you may well have just sown to the whirlwind.
We do recall that mass-murderer Dylann Roof said he had hoped his actions would start a race war. Roof certainly didn’t find as combustible of an environment as the context of George Floyd’s killing has afforded. The present situation has a glut of kindling making us doubly vulnerable to anarchists, white nationalists, racists, and false-flag-flying agents of all sorts. Sadly, our present climate of combustibility and extreme fire danger has been fomented and fostered by the current presidential administration.
I wish our president was not so very contemptable, and growing more so everyday. I hope we all remember in November, and vote!
A nation in flames
Being a nation and society founded on the rule of law, our relationships with each other, and our property, are based on universal fidelity to that rule. It’s awkward and it’s clumsy and it’s often slow to respond, but the rule of law is, arguably, the most practical approach to organizing a civil, cooperative society that we know. Is justice guaranteed in a rule of law system? No, lord no, far from it. Justice in a system organized on the rule of law is only achieved as the product of a vigilant and vigorous citizenry. Being a ‘vigilant and vigorous citizenry’ means not being deaf to perennial cries for justice and it means actively addressing the short-falls in the existing law and policy.
That said, even though a nation of law cannot really condone anarchy and lawlessness, neither can I condemn those who feel that, for them, the rule of law is just code for white privilege and protecting the property of the wealthy. When again and again and again atrocities like “I can’t breathe” fail to produce real systemic change, I surely cannot condemn those who “act out” by striking out at the only thing white people really seem to care about, their property. I am not saying that I agree with it, I am saying that I can understand why it feels so desperate to our black and brown siblings that some, some of them can only see playing with matches carelessly as the solution. Even if I don’t understand the destruction, I do understand the rage. I pray that rage-filled destruction be confined to property damage as sometimes violence intended for property creates collateral damage to human beings.
The Other America
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made a speech in April of 1967 entitled, “The Other America,” that speaks through time to us and our present circumstances, as so many of his words often do. You may have seen other’s quoting these passages this week, but ‘if they repeat it, it’s important.’
But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. —MLKjr
And this line in the speech that just preceded those above by a couple of lines.
I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. —MLKjr
By the way, this is presently being seen in a lack of focus (e.g., a million of distractions away from the “I can’t breathe” reality that is so very difficult) and in a notable lack of leadership right now from White America.
It’s quite possible that Officer Derek Chauvin was not aware that he had worked with Mr. Floyd as they both did security for a Minneapolis night club, “Conga Latin Bistro,” likely on many occasions. I wonder, would it have mattered in those fateful moments in the street last Monday if Derek Chauvin had recognized Mr. Floyd? If he had remembered him as a co-worker, would things have gone differently? I do wonder, too, how did Officer Chauvin feel when he learned the fact that Mr. Floyd had been his co-worker?
I also wonder how long we expect to be able to continue when it’s proven, like deja vu again and again and again, that petty crimes like selling loose cigarettes or trying to use a questionable twenty dollar bill while being a black man, far too routinely escalates to the immediate levying and execution of a death sentence?
We’ve all now heard it. And, we’ve all now heard it repeated.
“I can’t breathe!”
I lay some hope in the charges brought against Derek Chauvin. Third degree murder is still murder and that charge tells me the prosecutors are really going for a conviction. We’ll hope, and we’ll see.
White people need to finally recognize that our black and brown siblings are having a great deal of difficulty breathing in a white supremacist system that seems impossible to change. Until we (white people) repent, turn around, organize and finally put an end to it, we are all complicit in the continuation of that system. Systemic privileges must be surrendered for justice to visit our black and brown siblings. What will you do to end it now?
[this post approx. 1,850 words (7 mins)]
I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?