Processing the Death of George Floyd

Disclaimer: As many of you already know, I serve as a small group leader in my local church. As the events of these recent weeks have passed, my heart turned to my students and the other children who may have trouble understanding and processing these difficult times. I am, by no means, an expert on racial tensions in this country nor do I claim to have all the solutions to our current troubles. But my hope is that I can help those who do not have someone to turn to start to wrap their minds and their hearts around the heartbreak playing out before us.

I have also attached the list of prayer topics that I put together for my church’s Prayer for the Nation. I hope you will join me in prayer during these times.

Who was George Floyd?

George Floyd was a 46-year-old African-American man who lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He moved there from his hometown of Houston, Texas to begin a new job and live a new life. In both cities, Floyd was well known for his involvement in his community, particularly in his dedication to serving in his church through ministries for underserved communities. 

He served as his church put on services, Bible studies, basketball tournaments, and barbecues hoping to end the cycle of violence prevalent in these neighborhoods. Many of the youth in these neighborhoods knew Floyd as a brother, uncle, or even as a father figure in their lives.

Read more: George Floyd Left a Gospel Legacy in Houston | CT News & Reporting

What happened to George Floyd?

On May 25th, a call from employees of a nearby store went into police alleging that George Floyd had purchased a pack of cigarettes with a counterfeit 20-dollar bill. Floyd was placed into custody by a group of police officers who placed him on the ground. One of the officers then proceeded to kneel on his neck for nearly nine minutes despite several protests from Floyd that he could not breathe. He would later be declared dead at a nearby hospital.

Why is this incident significant?

This event is significant in that it is the most recent in a string of incidents that have highlighted how different life is for people of color, particularly African Americans in the United States of America. From the disparate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the African-American community, to the death of Ahmaud Arbery, to the death of Breonna Taylor, to the Amy Cooper – Christian Cooper incident, the death of George Floyd highlights the continued influence of racism in our society.

The incident between Amy Cooper – a white woman – and Christian Cooper – a black man – has had particular poignancy. On the morning of the same day that George Floyd was killed, Christian Cooper was birdwatching in Central Park, New York when Amy Cooper, who was walking her dog, unleashed, passed by. Christian Cooper asked that the woman follow the park’s regulations and  leash her dog when, after a back and forth, Amy Cooper threatened to call the police and say that an African-American man was threatening her. After Christian Cooper told her to do so, she called the police and the two parted ways. 

While this incident did not end in any violence, Amy Cooper’s weaponization of a police call against Christian Cooper by saying that a black man was threatening her when all he had done was ask her to follow the park’s regulation showed how Amy Cooper had not considered the effect her call might have on Christian Cooper’s life had the call led to the same sort of violence that led to George Floyd’s death after a call to police over an allegation of a counterfeit bill.

However, the death of George Floyd is also sadly insignificant in that these kinds of incidents happen every day. Not every act of racism is caught on camera and of those that are, not all of them go viral Yet, our black brothers and sisters have to live every day of their lives with fear that this could happen to them.

What has been the official reaction to this incident?

Thus far, the Minneapolis Police Department has fired all four of the officers involved. The government has pressed charges against the officer that knelt on Floyd’s neck for second-degree murder. Charges against the other three officers were also entered for aiding and abetting in second-degree murder. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice are also investigating and civil rights charges are also expected.

What has been the public reaction to this incident?

Among the public, there has been a widespread display of heartbreak and anger throughout the country. Many cities have seen protestors marching the streets and movements across social media. Some of these protests have turned into riots leading to a discussion of whether violence and destruction are the right way to mourn George Floyd’s death. 

Many of those who support rioting say that it is the only way to grab the attention of political leaders and the public. Others who do not support rioting say that the violence and destruction displayed in the riots do not honor Floyd properly and take attention and support away from the movement for justice and equality. In processing these two sides, I have found this quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. helpful:

“…I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

What is the historical context for these events?

I find that this quote is also helpful for considering the historical context for these events. It is striking how relevant Dr. King’s words remain despite being from over 40 years ago. This highlights the impact that racism in America continues to have from its roots in slavery over three hundred years ago to the Civil War and Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement in the wake of Jim Crow laws to today. Though there has been progress since then, we are reminded that the arc of moral progress, as Dr. King said, is still very long.

How should I as a Christian process these events?

As Christians, we should hold the value of every life sacred. Though we are all guilty through our complicity in a racist system, our primary motivation should not be guilt or shame, but rather the truth that every person is made in His image and is precious in His eyes.

The Bible also tells us that God is a god of justice and so God hates injustice. So, when the life of His creation is taken away through injustice, God also gets angry and it is okay for us to get angry at how unfair this can feel too. We ought to feel motivated to do what we can to fight for justice and equality for our black brothers and sisters.

However, we must not forget the hope we have in Jesus Christ and let this anger consume us. In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, which we have been studying this season, we are reminded that vengeance belongs to the Lord. God keeps His promises and in His promise of justice, we can rest knowing that He will follow through. That means we can turn away from our anger, social media, and the violence and destruction when it all feels too overwhelming to handle and turn to Christ.

What is our responsibility as the Church in response to these events?

In times such as these, it is important for the Church to be the witness of Christ to the world. We are called to point out and fight against the injustices of this world. It is also important that we provide a Kingdom-perspective on the darkness in our society and shine the light of the hope of Christ on the people in our lives. 

And so we must pray. We must speak. And we must act. 

What are some resources available to me to educate myself on this topic?

How to Be Actively Anti-Racist

An Asian American Guide to Dismantling Anti-Blackness – AACC

What George Floyd’s Death Should Remind Us About Justice and the Gospel – Russell Moore

Racial Justice and the Uneasy Conscience of American Christianity – Russell Moore

We Need to Be Uncomfortable – TGC

Oh God, Make Us Angry! – TGC

The Gospel and the Pursuit of Justice in Your City – TGC

Chris Cuomo: America as two cities

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