Chris McDonnell CT June 12 2020
A just and caring society is based on a contract between peoples, an understanding of mutual respect and, where it occurs, a resolution of conflicting opinions by a fair and equitable means. Otherwise it won’t work.
In recent days we have been witness to the consequences for a society where that crucial understanding has failed in a spectacular and fearful manner. The brutal killing on the streets of Minneapolis of George Floyd by law enforcement officers has given us an image that will not fade with time. Their callous action was captured on camera and copied round the world.
In our country we police by consent, our law enforcement officers are largely unarmed and accountability for their actions is an accepted part of their contract of service. It is by no means the same beyond our borders.
A just society necessitates empathetic leadership, the caring, authoritative voice of one who appreciates injustice yet is not adverse to speaking honestly when circumstances of endemic racism demand it. Respected leadership is earned by appropriate words and actions in response to the occasion, a gift in which the current occupant of the White House is sadly lacking. His Presidency is over, he has abdicated his office.
Leadership was shown by the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. When he first protested against racial injustice and police brutality by kneeling down during the United States national anthem in the summer of 2016, he did so paying a high personal price but his actions gained him respect. Since then, a whole movement has grown around his gesture.
It has been said by Jim Forest that “the United States was founded in racism genocide and slavery. Huge sins. There are only two things one can do about sins: either repent of them with all that repentance requires, or justify them. America has yet to choose the path of repentance.”
When our optician tells us that we have 20/20 vision, we are grateful for good news. That means the quality of our sight is the best we can get. Who would have thought when the year 2020 began that it would offer such a blurred and uncertain future?
The world-wide stress of the coronavirus pandemic has affected the US economically in addition to the heavy loss of life that has been suffered. Now on top of that has come the racially ignited fire of street conflict, reminiscent of that which swept the Watts district of Los Angeles in mid-August 1965.
Whereas Curfews are the short term fix to the immediate problems of city street disturbance, such a significant action does nothing to resolve the underlying root cause that gave rise to civil unrest in the first place. We need to ask questions and then have the courage and honesty to face the answers.
That challenge faced the young man in the parable of the Prodigal Son, what to do when he found that the good times were over, how to be reconciled with the Father, whose home he had left?
Going back is always the hard option. We talk of ‘swallowing our pride’, admitting we were wrong, making apology for careless words and actions. But if relationships are to be repaired, it necessitates the demonstration such humility.
The Christ of the Gospels is continually calling the people back to experience the mercy of the Father, continually asking each one of us to turn our lives around and think again. I will conclude with these few inadequate words, written the day after George Floyd was killed. May he rest in peace and may the people of his country be reconciled, one with another.
Hours of darkness
George Floyd May 2020 Minneapolis
With a bent knee pressing heavy on his neck,
he lay handcuffed in the side-walk gutter
uttering his final words “I can’t breathe!”
Others watched. Later, as the hours of darkness fell,
crowds filled the city streets as anger spilled over
in an excess of fear demanding recognition.
Countered by Crow, with his sharp unfettered beak
threatening from Southern history
“when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” *
His lack of sympathy was not lost on those of colour
who have once again lost one of their own.
The smashed shop windows, the burnt-out cars,
wrecked lives ignored by a centre that has not held.
The heat of on-coming Summer hovers expectantly,
in this Election Year, so trace your finger gently
on the forehead of each dead man or dying child,
crucified for being who they are.
Do not condone this residue of riot
but question the cause of violation of a truth
self-evident, that all are equal under God.
* In 1967, Walter Headley, who was then the police chief of Miami, Florida, used the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” at a press conference after street disturbance.