“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side; Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand and the sheep upon the right,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.”
On the 25th of May, we collectively witnessed a white police officer slowly murder George Floyd, a Black man, in broad daylight, while being recorded. The officer’s knee was pressed against Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Mr. Floyd was lying flat on the ground. He was handcuffed. There were three other officers present, two of them holding him down. After Mr. Floyd became unresponsive, the officer kept his knee against his neck for another two minutes and 53 seconds, including one minute after the paramedics arrived. By then, Mr. Floyd was dead.
“So the Evil’s triumph sendeth, with a terror and a chill,
Under continent to continent, the sense of coming ill,
And the slave, where’er he cowers, feels his sympathies with God
In hot tear-drops ebbing earthward, to be drunk up by the sod,
Till a corpse crawls round unburied, delving in the nobler clod.”
“Please. Please. Please. I can’t breathe. Please man. Please somebody. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Mama. Mama. I can’t. I’m through. I’m through. Some water or something. Please. Please. I can’t breathe officer. Don’t kill me. They gonna kill me man. I cannot breathe. I cannot breathe. Please sir. Please sir. Please. Please. Please. Please I can’t breathe.”
“Slavery, the earth-born Cyclops, fellest of the giant brood,
Sons of brutish Force and Darkness, who have drenched the earth with blood,
Famished in his self-made desert, blinded by our purer day,
Gropes in yet unblasted regions for his miserable prey;
Shall we guide his gory fingers where our helpless children play?”
My heart aches. I have been wrestling with how I can make a difference in this conversation. I’m white, gay, affluent, Christian, and male. I have experienced some discrimination. I have been threatened with violence at gunpoint because of my orientation. But I do not know what it is like to be the inheritor of 400 years of enslavement, torture, murder and oppression. I don’t have kids, but when I read stories of parents instructing their Black children how to behave in order to avoid being killed by those sworn to protect and serve, I cannot grasp their pain.
“When a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth’s aching breast
Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, trembling on from east to west,
And the slave, where’er he cowers, feels the soul within him climb
To the awful verge of manhood, as the energy sublime
Of the century bursts full-blossomed on the thorny stem of Time.”
I don’t want to “get through this.” I don’t want to go back to “the way it was.” We’re here because of “the way it was.” I need to listen more. I need to learn more. I need to understand more. About the daily lives of my sisters and brothers, and about the systemic racism that is woven into the fabric of the United States of America. And then I need to examine my own privilege, and how I may be contributing to the problem. I don’t want the momentum to slow, but I do want our nation to take the time necessary to create transformative change and usher in a new renaissance.
“New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth;
Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea,
Nor attempt the Future’s portal with the Past’s blood-rusted key.”
If we desire peace, we must work for justice. Not the cliché of “law and order” that suppresses our fellow human beings. Peace is not found there. True peace is found in the lived experience of a just life for all of humanity, without qualification.
“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side…”
My decision is to listen. To learn. To grow. To reflect. To change. And to act. What will you decide?
*Italicized excerpts from James Russell Lowell’s poem, The Present Crisis, an articulation of the abolitionist cause, which was written in 1844. It speaks powerfully across the centuries to those of us listening in 2020.
Color of Change: https://colorofchange.org/
George Floyd family’s memorial fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd
The Bail Project: https://bailproject.org/
Fair Fight: https://fairfight.com/