What is the value of the life of a black man in this country?
George Floyd went to Cup Foods on Chicago street in Minneapolis on Memorial Day to purchase a pack of Menthol cigarettes. He paid for the cigarettes with a $20 bill which, after he left, was discovered to be counterfeit. Of course, no one knows if Floyd even knew it was counterfeit. Police were called by the young clerk. In a matter of minutes George Floyd was dead.
The standard cost of a pack of cigarettes with tax in MN is $ 8.10. So one might say that the answer to the question of what is the value of the life of a black man: $ 8.10.
And now, you can add yet another name, another face, another tragedy to the ever growing list of victims of police brutality and violence, most especially people of color, and most especially black men. George Floyd was from the predominantly African-American Third Ward of Houston. He was known as “Big Floyd”, a gentle giant, and a man of faith. He was considered an elder statesman and a community leader in the Third Ward. More than all of that, he was a human being, and a child of God.
He had moved to Minnesota in 2018, and I can tell you that is not easy for anyone from Texas to do, especially when one is a loved as he was by that community. Floyd went however, to be part of a Christian work program. And when this latest video went viral, as with so many other times this has happened, we began to hear of others, most likely where the local authorities had success in keeping the brutality out of the press. Breonna Taylor is such a name. An emergency room technician in Louisville who was simply sleeping with her fiancé in her home when police batter rammed her house, and shot her at least 8 times. The police were allowed to enter on what is known as a “no knock” warrant which had been issued by a judge. The police in this case were casing a house where they believed drugs were being sold. They decided to add the address of Taylor because they believed one of the men they were after had used that address at one time. That one suspicion, that one “notion” turned deadly for her.
Rightfully, many of our fellow citizens took to the streets to protest, and the vast majority intended, and did in fact, protest peacefully. Sadly, today, in our Seattle streets, but also in streets all over our country, the protests have turned violent. In Minnesota, the mayors of both St. Paul, and Minneapolis, have publicly stated all those arrested last night in their cities were from other states, using this event to seek their own gain, capitalizing on this tragedy to make peaceful protesters the culprits. I hope you don’t fall for it.
All of that is sad, but ultimately it also misses the point. We, together, must work to change the ease at which George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the ever growing list we do know and the so many we will never know, can be so easily and so senselessly murdered by those trained and paid to protect us all.
Today, our Presiding Bishop said this:
Perhaps the deeper pain is the fact that this was not an isolated incident. It happened to Breonna Taylor on March 13 in Kentucky. It happened to Ahmaud Arbery on February 23 in Georgia. Racial terror in this form occurred when I was a teenager growing up black in Buffalo, New York. It extends back to the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 and well before that. It’s not just our present or our history. It is part of the fabric of American life.
He goes on to say, when all the TV cameras are gone, we have to stay fixed on these issues. And how many times have we all said that?
Thoughts and Prayers are good, but they do not change us. Peaceful protests are good, but they do not change us.
Finally, I want to say, the people that most HAVE to work on this, is my tribe, white people. We are the ones that have to consciously, intentionally, purposefully decide to be present, long after the cameras are gone, long after George Floyd and Brionna and Ahmaud are yesterday’s news. Their senseless deaths have to stay fresh for us. Then, we need to work on ourselves. We have to go to the difficult places inside ourselves, and find the racism and prejudice that reside in us. We have to learn more about that, so we can change ourselves. If we keep lulling ourselves into believing we are not part of the problem, it is going to be difficult to be part of the solution. Our privilege, our comfort, our unequal protection by the authorities is part of the problem. We need to use the privilege to change the balance.
Several years ago we put a lot of effort, in this diocese, to begin administering the Intercultural Development Inventory. Although, because this is certainly not a quick fix, and because this requires ongoing work, we have had some push back, and criticism. That usually comes because we all want the quick fix. By now we ought to know those are hard to come by. A couple hours in a class is not going to change this. Knowing the right words to use will not change this. This is very long term work. This is work for you to do on.....YOU, and the point of the work is to “develop” to evolve, to learn and grow.
My Anglo siblings, WE, most especially, need to do this work. I can tell you, my own work with this inventory has been transforming. Because of it, I can also tell you I have a long way to go. But I am working on it. Join me. We have to change this for the generations to come.
I end with our Presiding Bishop’s wise words,
Opening and changing hearts does not happen overnight. The Christian race is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Our prayers and our work for justice, healing and truth-telling must be unceasing. Let us recommit ourselves to following in the footsteps of Jesus, the way that leads to healing, justice and love.
I also want to pass along the invitation from the Union of Black Episcopalians, a group in which I am a life member, and a group that has taught me so much on this issue, and a prayer vigil via Zoom in which they are inviting all to attend.
You can read the entire post by the Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church here.
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The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel is the VIII Bishop of Olympia, the Episcopal Church in Western Washington State. He has been the bishop here since September, 2007.