The year was 2006. I was employed at a small consulting firm. The husband-and-wife team of owners was out of the office so one other employee and I were the only two people in the the suite of the unassuming two-story office building on a typically cold January morning in Denver. The other worker, Margaret, and I had little in common. She was in her fifties, I, in my thirties; she had been married for decades, I was newly wed; she had grown children and small grandchildren, I had no children; she is white, I am black. The singular thing we had in common is that we worked for the same company.
As someone who ran from controversy and quite frankly, don’t always stand sure-footed when handling it today, I am certain that I did not initiate a sure-to-be controversial conversation about the ever-existing hatred from white Americans toward black Americans, but I found myself in the middle of an exchange on that very topic with Margaret. She made a comment trying to disprove it, then I showed her how what she argued was not true. She made a second attempt to show me how we’ve reconciled as a nation and I pointed out the flaw in that argument, too. Being ill-prepared and too exhausted to continue the dialogue, I made an attempt to end it with,
“Well, racism is definitely still alive and well in America”, to which Margaret replied, “Well, at least there aren’t lynchings anymore.”
The year is 2020. May 25th, almost fifteen years after Margaret assured me that lynchings no longer occur in this country, George Floyd, a black man, was lynched by four white police officers who suspected him of “forgery in progress”, a crime for which the punishment in any of the fifty states in this union is as minimal as a fine and as severe as imprisonment.
In not one of the states in this union is the penalty death, much less death by a knee to the neck in the street by men who chose an occupation whose oath is “to protect and serve”.
George Floyd received neither protection nor service in those final moments that he called out “Momma” through labored and last breaths.
Neither did Philando Castille, who was murdered during a traffic stop while restrained by his seatbelt. When the case went to trial, the officer who killed him was found not guilty.
And the problem is not merely with police officers – it’s the system as a whole. It allows black people to be murdered with little – if any – consequences at all.
In this same year, Ahmaud Arbery was hunted and killed by white men while out for a jog. His killers have yet to stand trial.
In 2012, Trayvon Martin was killed by a citizen who erroneously ascribed to him ill intent as he walked home with Skittles and a Snapple. His killer was acquitted.
These are but a few of these types of killings that have occurred but they are innumerable.
Margaret meant well. She was hoping to make me feel better by pointing out that public lynchings no longer occur, but history and I both proffer myriad events like these that should cause her to believe otherwise. So much has to change to bring an end to these injustices, but here’s what you can do: start with a gut check. Honestly look inward and see how your heart and your mind are at odds with one another. You have much work to do if your instinct is to come to the defense of the killers with statements that begin, “But…” Ask God to break your heart with the things that break his heart. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with the Lord.