Juneteenth 2020 — Oh Freedom!

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Today may be a Juneteenth like no other.

Juneteenth is a celebration. It’s not solemn, it’s filled with joy and pageantry. It’s not a funeral. But 2020 Juneteenth is uncomfortably juxtaposed with police violence against Black people, protesters in cities all over the nation and funerals — too many funerals.

A Bit of History . . . 

Juneteenth is one of America’s oldest holidays and is observed each year on June 19 to mark the official end of slavery in the United States. The day has long been celebrated by black Americans as a symbol of their long-awaited emancipation. But the story behind the holiday starts 155 years ago today in Galveston, Texas.

On June 19, 1865, Union troops led by General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to break the news to the last remaining Confederate sympathizers that they had lost the Civil War and that all slaves must be freed. The Union general read aloud to the residents of Galveston:

The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.

The newly freed slaves celebrated emancipation with prayer, feasting, song, and dance, and the following year, the first official Juneteenth celebration was born. But the importance of Juneteenth is that it is rooted in a long history of struggle for freedom and then perhaps the greater struggle to maintain freedom in the face of the enormous repression that was to come.

The Struggle for Freedom Continued

7DC48528-34CF-47FA-9272-ED91E800C437It turned out that being free did not mean being being treated with respect. Yes, it was the true end of the Civil War, but it was also the beginning of Reconstruction, a time that was supposed to be very happy and hopeful. Yet the period of Reconstruction became a miserable time for freed Black people because Reconstruction became part of the redemption of the South. As such, it set out to move African Americans to indentured servitude. While President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in his Jan. 1, 1863, Emancipation Proclamation, rebellious Confederate strongholds dotted across the South delayed the widespread implementation.

The South would not hear of the end of slavery, and landowners moved heaven and earth to make sure they had plenty of indentured servants. They were determined to continue the ostentatious lifestyle that they believed was their right and their legacy. They were resolute in their quest to maintain their master/servant status.

Still Today, Elusive Freedom

Juneteenth has been “passed down” through black communities since 1866, but in this year — 2020 — this nation seems to be at the height of a modern-day civil rights movement. My friend says, “2020 is the year of reset!” People throughout this nation of every race and creed hope beyond hope the 2020 will go even beyond “reset” to reconciliation, transformation and rebirth. So that every person is free, respected and cherished as a part of beloved community.

B8EBCA53-AF97-42DD-AA97-BAB122368430The cruel and violent death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer might mean that this year Juneteenth may not be only about festivals, parades and cookouts. It may well be somewhat of a silent, reflective vigil for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Caine Van Pelt, Michael Thomas, Lewis Ruffin, Kamal Flowers, Momodou Lamin Sisay, Ruben Smith, Modesto Reyes . . . and the list could continue.

It is a list of tragedy and horror. It is a list that is a stain that will ever remain on this nation, an indelible mark of shame. It is a list of names we must never forget. So in your commemoration of Juneteenth today, honor those names, pray for their mourning families, and pray that you will confront racial injustice with an unshakeable resolve.

Juneteenth was meant to be a celebration, although many people might not be able to celebrate today. Heartbreak and horror have a tendency to override celebration and joy. Even with hearts broken, I hope we will find in our hearts even a tiny desire to celebrate this day that was, and is, all about freedom.

May the change that comes from the “2020 movement for racial justice” cause us to celebrate, not mourn, every time Juneteenth comes around — today and forevermore. And may each of us and all of us — a people of God’s creation — witness the rebirth of a nation where every person lives under a worldwide canopy of justice, peace, equality, respect and freedom.

May God make it so through us. Amen.


Celebrate, or mourn, today as you spend a few moments watching this moving and poignant video, “Oh Freedom.”

Together!

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A blending of two photos: One is an image of protesters in Minneapolis. The second image is a portrayal of people raising their hands to celebrate Pentecost.

This morning I have no words. I have tears. I have sadness. I even have some anger that the people I love whose skin is not “white” are living in grief and frustration. I say only that injustice and oppression cling so close to my friends, today and in centuries past.

F0ABFCC6-C312-44E2-A39F-35F520174256I hear my dear friends cry out for justice. I hear them using words to make sense of it all, and I hear their voices fall silent. Silent, with just these words, “I’m tired.” A dear friend posted the words on the left this morning. I want to see her face to face. I want to be together. I want to comfort her, hoping beyond hope that it is not too late for comfort.

I read this horrific headline this morning.

Prosecutors in Hennepin County, Minnesota, say evidence shows Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for a total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds, including two minutes and 53 seconds of which Floyd was non-responsive.   — ABC News

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Artists honor George Floyd by painting a mural in Minneapolis on Thursday, May 28, 2020. Artists began work on the mural that morning. (Photo: Jacqueline Devine/Sun-News)

Today I find myself deeply in mourning for the violence that happens in our country. I find myself trying to share in the grief of my friend and knowing I cannot fully feel the depth of it. Today I find myself unable to emotionally move away from it all. Today I contemplate George Floyd’s cry, “I can’t breathe.”

If there is any comfort at all, it comes as a gift of the artists pictured here. In an act of caring, they offer this mural at a memorial for George Floyd.

The names of other victims of violence are painted in the background. The words, “I can’t breathe!” will remain in our memories. Today we are together in mourning.

But tomorrow, I will celebrate Pentecost. I wonder how to celebrate in a time when lamentation feels more appropriate. I wonder how to celebrate when brothers and sisters have died violent deaths and when thousands of protesters line the streets of many U.S. cities. I wonder how to celebrate when protesters are obviously exposing themselves to COVID19.

Still, tomorrow — even in such a time as this — I will celebrate the breath of the Spirit. Tomorrow I will join the celebration that has something to do with being together, being one. To juxtapose the joyous celebration of Pentecost with the horrible picture of what we saw in cities throughout our country for the past few nights seems an impossible undertaking. What does one have to do with the other?

Perhaps they do share a common message. From those who protest, this message:

“We bring our broken hearts and our anger for the killing of our people, for the murders across the ages of people who are not like you. You treat us differently than you treat the people who look like you. For as long as we can remember, you have visited upon us oppression, slavery, racist violence, injustice. And we are tired. We are spent. We are beside ourselves with collective mourning. We can’t breathe!“

From those who celebrate Pentecost, this message:

18bbdca6-8ece-4df4-aa13-fe110e3298cb“How we celebrate the day when the Holy Spirit breathed upon those gathered together, with gifts of wind and fire!

How we celebrate the story told in the 2nd chapter of Acts!”

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, last days, God says,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.

Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.’”   —
Acts 2:1-18 NIV

The people did not, in fact, have too much wine. Peter made it clear that wine did not empower the people who gathered in Jerusalem —  “every people under heaven” — to speak and understand as they heard every word spoken in their own language. That would be a start, would it not, if we could speak the same language and truly understand — people who have flesh-colored skin, and brown and bronze, and red and black . . . every skin color under the sun. If only we could understand each other.

And then, what if we could gather together, welcoming every person? What if we could truly gather together and wait for Spirit to fall upon us with empowerment like we have never known before? What if we allowed the Spirit to give us breath, together?

41F5FD83-6B7A-4393-BF9E-57F0E4D51023In the end, there is a tiny bit of joy in George Floyd’s tragic story. It is a joy much deeper than reality’s sorrow. The artists completed their mural, and in the very center near the bottom, they had painted words that express the greatest truth of all.

Can you see it behind the little girl? “I can breathe now!”

What if we welcome Spirit Breath that will change us? What if we embrace empowerment from the Holy Spirit to help us change our world? What if we end oppression and injustice, together? What if holy perseverance could inspire us to live and act in solidarity with our sisters and brothers, all of them?

What if we dare to give our soul’s very breath to help bring about Beloved Community, together?

Together! Together!

May my God — and the God of every other person — make it so. Amen.

 

 

 

The Whirlwind Is Here

 

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Moon Over Harlem, William H. johnson, 1943-1944. © Washington, DC,                           Smithsonian American Art Museum

I share this blog post today in memory of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed in the state of Georgia, the state in which I live in full and free safety. Ahmaud Arbery did not know such safety. But today we say his name and honor his memory. There are so many names we could speak today: Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd. Breonna Taylor and hundreds more, even thousands. What can black parents possibly tell their kids now about staying safe? I also honor the parents who try to find the right words, the right admonitions to say to their children. Most of all, I honor the strong and powerful voices who continually cry out: “Justice!” My friend and pastor, Wendell Griffen, is one who cries “justice” with a particular eloquence.

Wendell Griffen is a pastor, state court trial judge, and social justice activist in Little Rock, Arkansas who lectures and writes about social justice. I am pleased to share with you his most recent article. He will call you out. He will speak plainly to those of us who are white. He will call you to act against injustice, drawing your courage from God, who whose children are deeply loved — all of them!


 

For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.
Hosea 8:7 (NRSV)

Have you viewed the ten minute and twelve second video of the May 25, 2020 killing of George Floyd by former members of the Minneapolis Police Department?

Why haven’t you? What are you afraid you will see? What are you unwilling to see? What are you unwilling to admit?

Have the four now former members of the Minneapolis Police Department responsible for killing George Floyd in broad daylight before onlookers who also videotaped their conduct been arrested on suspicion of committing a homicide (causing the death of another person) of George Floyd?

Why haven’t they been arrested? Why have they not been held in custody and required to post bond? Who decided they should not be arrested? What message was sent when they were not arrested?

The killing of George Floyd was a criminal act. There are witnesses to the act. The fact of Mr. Floyd’s death is indisputable.  Mr. Floyd was not threatening anyone — none of the officers nor anyone else — when he was killed. The actions of the officers were not taken or necessary to prevent him from threatening anyone.

In other words, there is no legal justification for the actions of the four former police officers who killed George Floyd.  None.  Period.  Full stop.

We should not be surprised that people around the world, including Minneapolis, are furious. George Floyd was slain by agents of the state. His killers are still at large. They have not been arrested. We should not be surprised that people in Minneapolis are outraged by statements on Thursday from local and federal prosecutors calling for “patience.” Why should they be patient about deliberate refusals to arrest known homicide suspects? Why should they “trust” a “process” that reeks with corruption and injustice?

We should not be surprised that people are outraged by the decision of the Minnesota Governor to mobilize the state militia — the Minnesota National Guard. Minneapolis is not under siege or being attacked. The “peace” and “order” of the Minneapolis area is not threatened by the civilians who protested while four Minneapolis police officers killed Mr. Floyd.  It is not threatened by Mr. Floyd’s family members and friends. It is not threatened by the many people who took to the streets to protest his death and how local authorities refused to arrest his killers.

Do the Mayor of Minneapolis and Governor of Minnesota believe that it takes 500 National Guard soldiers to arrest four suspected killers?

And does anyone really believe that the fiery protests seen tonight would have happened if the four suspected killers had been already arrested?

Let’s talk plainly. George Floyd was killed. At minimum, he was recklessly killed. At worse, he was knowingly killed. In Minnesota and every other US jurisdiction, recklessly causing the death of another person is manslaughter. In Minnesota, state prosecutors can charge people who commit manslaughter without convening a grand jury.

Let’s talk plainly. In Minnesota and elsewhere in the United States, a person who cooperates with, assists, helps to conceal, or otherwise interferes with efforts to stop a homicide is liable for the homicide as an accomplice. Each of the officers involved in the homicide of George Floyd should have been arrested and charged days ago with manslaughter! The prosecutors can later seek grand jury indictments for murder if other evidence is uncovered.

Let’s talk plainly.  The Minnesota Governor and Minneapolis Police Department, and the Hennepin County prosecutor are demonstrating their cultural incompetence. That incompetence is not merely personal. It is institutional, pervasive, pernicious, and infuriating!

The same cultural incompetence happened when Ahmaud Arbery was killed in Georgia.

The same cultural incompetence happened when Breonna Taylor was killed in Kentucky.

The same cultural incompetence happened when a white woman named Amy Cooper falsely accused a black man named Christian Cooper (no relationship) of threatening her life.

That cultural incompetence is not new.

The Louisville Police officers who killed Breonna Taylor in her home have not been arrested – yet!

The killers of Ahmaud Arbery were not arrested for months after he was attacked and slain. They were only arrested after (and because) a video was exposed that chronicled how he was killed and who killed him.

We should also demand that the former police officers involved in the Floyd matter be arrested immediately on suspicion of manslaughter. There is plainly probable cause for arresting the officer who held his knees on Floyd.  However, there is also probable cause for arresting the other officers as accessories (accomplices) because of their active presence and complicity in the homicide (manslaughter).

Few statements to date have stressed this fundamental issue. Arrests do not need simultaneous charging actions. There is no need to await charges before each of the former officers who were involved in the homicide of George Floyd is arrested on suspicion of manslaughter. There is no requirement that the autopsy be completed before persons suspected of manslaughter are arrested. There is no requirement that ALL possible information be gathered before suspected killers are arrested.

Each former officer should be arrested on suspicion of having committed manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.

Prophetic people know that refusal to arrest of the former officers is a political statement by the Minneapolis Police Department. The Department has chosen to not arrest killers.  That fact should be strongly proclaimed. Prosecutors do not arrest suspects. That is a policing decision, and the police have deliberately exercised their discretion to NOT arrest four homicide suspects.

Telling people to “trust the process” is infuriating when “the process” is openly working to perpetuate a blatant injustice.

Stop saying “you feel the anger” of people in Minneapolis, and especially “feel the anger” of black and brown people. No, you don’t!  You haven’t suffered this mess. You haven’t dealt with it every day and night.

You haven’t seen people be called “lawless” for loudly protesting a homicide except when the victim is a person of color.

You don’t “feel our anger.” You may feel your own anger. Good. But don’t claim that you “feel our anger” or “share our anger.” You don’t unless you have shared our pain, shared our discrimination, and shared the centuries of blatant state sanctioned slaughter of black and brown people by law enforcement officials. We know you don’t feel and share our anger. Stop fooling yourselves and stop trying to fool us!

Black people are not fools. The U.S. Justice Department is headed by William Barr, the same person who decided that the United States would not charge Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner by choking him to death, with violating Garner’s civil rights.

We live with discrimination every day. We do not have to act like we like it. We do not have to put on a good face about it. And we will not do so. If you aren’t comfortable with our anger and the way we express it, get out of the way. If you aren’t turning over the institutions responsible for our anger and angry behavior, get out of the way.

As the prophet Hosea wrote concerning the ancient Hebrew nation of Israel, this society has always sown the wind of white supremacy with its tolerance of state-sponsored terrorism and slaughter of black, brown, red, yellow, and poor white people. People of color have long known that this society “shall reap the whirlwind.”

The whirlwind from the seeds of long pent-up outrage about systemic law enforcement abusive and homicidal conduct has arrived at the same time the nation and world are gripped by the global Covid 19 pandemic which highlights racial disparities in countless areas of life. The whirlwind from generations of corrupt and racist political leadership now has arrived when the US is led by a vicious idiot, despot, racist, and sociopath named Donald John Trump.

The whirlwind is here. The United States cannot, should not, and will not escape.

©Wendell Griffen, 2020


Amen, my brother. Yes, our country has reaped the whirlwind. We have reaped the whirlwind. Let us gather our resolve and look to our faith to guide us, and then let each of us work to break the bonds of injustice in whatever ways we are able. Today I committed to using my art and writing to portray the rise of white supremacy and the oppression of non-white persons. What gifts could you use to enter the struggle for justice? Can each of us work for justice with a sense of urgency?

May our God find us faithful to the creation of Beloved Community.  Amen.

KMF