In memory of George Floyd: A Minneapolis pastor's perspective

June 3rd, 2020

It’s six o’clock in the morning. I awake to a cool breeze coming through the window. It’s quiet outside. My family has come through another night of protests and rioting here in south Minneapolis. Last night, like the three nights previous, was full of gunshots, unexplained explosive bangs, police sirens and people shouting. The National Guard and state patrol have been called out, enforcing a citywide curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. But the alleys and streets around my house are active through the night with furtive figures sneaking around and raucous groups of white men in masks looking to do damage. People are looting in broad daylight. Looters, not protesters. Protesters protest; looters loot. While all the crazy is going on, protesters gather in peace at the site of George Floyd’s murder. Tears trickle down my wife’s cheeks as we stand hand in hand, joining in the protest. People reflecting the cultural diversity of this community gather all day and into the night to grieve, mourn, and protest another unjust killing of a Black man. We have to change!

George Floyd. Photo: Prachatai / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Where is God in all this? God is in the anguish and fear of community residents. God is in the angry chants and demands for justice invoked by protesters. I feel God’s presence as tears run down my own cheeks as I witness the destruction and mayhem engulfing my neighborhood. God sees, God knows, and God cares. I share my neighbors’ sense of great loss, beyond the dehumanization of a people, manifest in the death of George Floyd. More than just stores and businesses and terrible loss of life (at least one person was shot by a store owner while looting), I see the loss of community, of trust, of having nice things here in my neighborhood, of familiar places I’ve grown attached to like old friends.

People ask, “Why are they destroying their own community?” People want to understand what is happening. But sometimes there is no way to understand what someone else is feeling unless you have been in their shoes and lived their life. Imagine if you felt like there was so little regard for your life that you had no other recourse but to explode, venting your anger on everything around you, even your own home and community, and feeling that you have nothing to lose. How can you understand this unless it has been you who for generations and centuries has had to endure abasement, denigration and abuse; unless it is you who has been devalued, ignored, and dehumanized every day because of the color of your skin?

George Floyd is the last straw breaking the camel’s back of the frustration felt by people in this community. Black lives matter. Does this really have to be said? Ask George Floyd, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark: three black men needlessly killed in the Twin Cities by police in the last five years, with little or no consequence to the perpetrators. Apparently, some lives matter more than others. One protest slogan demands “Legalize being Black!” A simple request actually. Just stop killing black people. That’s all we want. Just stop. Nobody else gets killed by the police like we do. Let there be a moratorium against killing black people. Schools have made a moratorium against suspending black kids, instead finding alternative ways to discipline them for bad behavior. It can be done. Just stop killing black people . . . please. STOP KILLING US!!!!

It’s day six since George Floyd was killed by the police two blocks from my house. That brutal act has sparked protests and riots that moved from this little corner of my neighborhood to engulf the whole southside, the entire city, and now cities major and small across the United States and the entire world. It has become a cause and rallying cry for civil rights. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s was rejuvenated by the protests in Birmingham as America and the rest of the world witnessed on TV the horror and abuse of firehoses and dogs set on children. I see a similar movement happening here as protests erupt all over the country, in Los Angeles, Chicago, Nashville, New York and numerous other cities. The movement is spreading out over the globe with protests in Tokyo, London and Berlin as well. Dear Lord, may this eruption of anger lead to repentance, healing and change.

This post was written on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020 by Chris McNair, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and executive director of Christ's Children Ministries in Minneapolis.

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