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.