The recent killing of George Floyd is a constant reminder of the business-as-usual tactics of law enforcement and another reminder of the acts of terrorism against the black body and soul in America. While all black men stopped by the police are not thugs or guilty of accused crimes, the same can be said for law enforcement officers who take their oaths seriously and are law abiding officers.
However, the history of authority figures getting away with crimes and murder against blacks is alarming. It’s a terrible thing to know intuitively that this happens and yet be powerless to prove it. Thank God for cellphones, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram and text messages.
While coverage of social unrest is ongoing, few will understand that Floyd’s death leaves a psychological scar on black people and will forever contribute to the mistrust of law enforcement and the local community. The killings of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor make fathers and mothers of black children afraid when their sons and daughters go to football and basketball games on Fridays or movies on Saturday evening. These killings make moms and dads practice the speech that they regret having to give to their sons and daughters each year. I tremble as I write this because I remember the talks. I used to shrug them off. Then one day I realized how serious the talk was.
One of the sad realities of African-American life amongst college students and young adults is to hear them tell stories of friends who died senselessly as a result of police brutality and random acts of preventable violence (race-related). It’s a deafening kind of silence because the silence tells you it could have been you.
For centuries, black churches and civil rights organizations like NAACP, the SCLC and the Urban League have articulated another narrative and been present with families when tragic deaths, usually related to race, happen. In the 1960s and 1970s, something developed called community organizing, and by the early 1980s, faith-based community organizing developed.
Faith-based community organizing is built on the civil rights model of organizing congregations. During the civil rights era, members of congregations were very involved in social protest and the clergy led. In faith-based community organizing entire congregations are involved in justice work. Justice is simply righting wrongs. When people work in justice ministry or justice organizations, they are simply involved in righting the wrong (in their community).
The recent killings in our nation are creating a renewed interest in people of all walks of life to be involved in organizations that are responding to local, state and national injustices. Now is not the time, and it has never been the time, to be quiet about injustices.
But please be aware justice work is not for the faint in heart. Sometimes we confuse the work of justice with charity. Charitable acts are mercy ministries. All over our community, churches, synagogues, mosques and nonprofit organizations have soup kitchens, clothing drives and giveaways, delivering toys to young people whose parents are incarcerated, etc. These are all important ministries and community projects. However, they are charitable acts. The truth is we will never be able to supply all of those needs.
Justice asks a different set of questions. Justice asks why there are so many people in the soup kitchen line, why there are so many people in need of clothes and why children’s parents are incarcerated. Justice asks those questions and goes to the root source and tackles that question and issue. When we pursue justice we negate the need for charitable acts. The charitable act puts a Band-Aid on the problem, justice goes to the root of the problem and finds a solution.
The recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have enraged people across the country. The reality is this type of killing is systemic and institutional and will only change with organized people power.
One thing we can do is vote and change the people in office, who are business-as-usual politicians. We don’t need to be electing persons who are planning on being career politicians, and those who want to rise through the ranks. We need to vote for people who make a difference and make the world and their local community a better place and who are not afraid to address the real issues that are impacting people.
Many of the killings of innocent black people are the result of hundreds of years of racism and multiple community problems like education, affordable housing, a lack of behavioral health resources, crime and gun violence, unfair sentencing laws and what Michelle Alexander calls “The New Jim Crow.”
Organizing for community transformation works. Please join an organization that addresses community problems and concerns and seeks to find solutions to those issues. And please make sure you vote!
Rev. Carey A. Grady is the pastor of Reid Chapel AME Church in Columbia.