Note to Self on How to Respond to a Lynching
May 27, 2020 – David R. Weiss
Announce—in the loudest and firmest voice you can manage—and remember, you are addressing everyone present:
Friends, as a person of faith I have promised to stand against evil. I cannot simply stand by, not even to bear witness. I must act.
If you are white, I invite you to act with me. We who are white must challenge white supremacy and racism, even when it wears a uniform.
I intend no harm, but I will act. I may well be harmed. But nothing will be different … until I am different. So today I will be different.
No longer a bystander, I will with-stand this violence. If enough of us white people withstand it together, we may stop it nonviolently. But even if I act alone, I change the equation. Forever.
As I watched the police officer kill George Floyd by keeping a knee to his neck until he could no longer breathe—all caught on cellphone video by several bystanders while three other officers stood by, I was awash with feelings. Among them, why doesn’t someone just intervene?! Yes, it’s a police officer. But while filming it may provide accountability and perhaps some justice, it didn’t keep Floyd alive.
Of course, it would’ve been deadly for any black person to intervene. Although, as a friend of mine remarked, Floyd called out for his mama because she would’ve done something. Not because she was black, but because she was his mama.
Then I asked myself, would I have intervened? And, of course, I don’t know. I’d like to hope—I’d truly like to hope—that had I been there, I would’ve put my life on the line to save his. “Greater love has no one than this,” said Jesus. At some point—some point long past now—it’s time for white people to stop being bystanders and become with-standers in moments like this.
Sure, we’ll be scared. We should be scared. But our conviction should run deeper than our fear. And we should train our words and actions to follow our convictions rather than our fear. Unfortunately, our best character has been taught to reflexively trust the police and to respect their authority without questioning it. Yet when we do so—even while “filming for justice”—black people die.
I am not criticizing anyone there yesterday! Had I been there, I likely would have—at most—pulled out my phone, too. But tomorrow, I intend to be different.
That statement at the top of the page? I’ve printed it out on a 2×3 business card that I’m going to laminate and carry in my wallet. Because, while my bravery may not match my eloquence, I’m betting that I can at least stammer a few words off a card and then step slowly forward until I get maced or tased. Even that may not save a life. But it will change the narrative. And that may be enough.
This isn’t about “white people” being heroes. It’s about simply being brave enough to be penitent, to own responsibility for the system of racism that runs wild in our nation. And that runs no less wild—likely more wild—within police culture, where it becomes particularly dangerous because it carries legal authority, a loaded gun, and a code of silence.
It’s going to take a lot of work to truly address police violence toward black people. And I don’t imagine that intervening in the midst of an encounter like Monday’s in Minneapolis is going to magically solve things. But too many black people have been dying at the hands of police for too long. And so far nothing has stopped that. And maybe widespread white timidity is partly to blame. So I’m taking one concrete step to end my timidity. It’ll be printed up on a small card in my wallet. I hope I never find myself in a situation where I need to use it. But if I do, I pray to God that I use it.
It’s not the only thing I intend to do. But it’s the first next thing. And I expect, once it’s in my wallet, it might motivate me to do other more mundane and equally necessary things. You might find that making one for your wallet motivates you, too. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a small card to laminate.
George Floyd. Say his name. Murdered in the dying daylight on Monday in Minneapolis.
George Floyd. He went by Big Floyd. Beloved child of God.
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at email@example.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.