Submitted by Steve O’Ban.
On May 25, George Floyd was killed, needlessly, by a Minneapolis police officer.
The photo of the officer’s knee to George Floyd’s neck is now seared into our national conscience. His cries for basic human sympathy, “I can’t breathe,” and the pleas of bystanders on his behalf, went unheeded for nine long minutes by all the officers present. It’s sickening.
Those officers, two of whom were people of color, allowed themselves to see Mr. Floyd as somebody not worthy of basic human decency. Because he was black? Because he was suspected of a crime?
Mr. Floyd was fearfully and wonderfully made, his life created with inherent worth and dignity. That is the starting point for how police officers, politicians, and Americans from all walks of life should view this injustice.
President Abraham Lincoln — the first Republican President — delivered the following words at his Second Inauguration a few weeks before the end of the Civil War. He spoke to the American conscience and suggested state-sponsored slavery amassed a great moral debt that only the horrors of that war could extinguish:
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword…”
But the injustices and indignities did not end as Lincoln hoped. For the next 100 years “Jim Crow,” redlining, and the other vestiges of slavery continued in virtually every corner of this country to the fullest extent possible short of outright slavery.
George Floyd’s death reminds the rest of us what the black community has been telling us: we are continuing to add to the debt Lincoln spoke of. How do we stop? Again, Lincoln himself is our guide:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
One powerful way to do our part “to bind up the nation’s wounds” of 350 years of slavery, and its equivalents, is for each of us to resist the human temptation to marginalize others, who are entitled to the same dignity and respect we expect.
The “other” may be from a different race, ethnicity, political party, national origin, or sub-culture. They may not speak English as their first language, watch the same cable news station, or share our views about gun ownership or protest marches.
Until we take a knee FOR our neighbor rather than AGAINST our neighbor, we fail to bind up our nation’s wounds.
Important policy discussions lie ahead, and I welcome them. I want to be part of fixing this problem and value your input. For now, what is within my power, and your power, is to heed Lincoln’s words to “bind up the nations wounds.” Listen closely, and openly, to those in pain. Choose words of healing, humility, dignity, and charity as you discuss these difficult topics with family, friends, co-workers. That goes for Donald Trump, our nation’s President. That goes for former Vice-President Joe Biden, and the other leaders of both major parties. Let’s choose words and actions of “charity for all, and malice towards none.”
We have all seen pictures of officers locally and across the country kneeling with those protesting, apparently pledging their willingness to listen. We have seen protestors across the country welcome this pledge. These may be small acts, but they are acts of dignity and respect we all need to see and emulate.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.