What You Can Do: A Response to George Floyd and Racial Injustice

I Have A Dream

Recently, Pastor Dave Bruskas, who is a dear brother and close friend of mine, reached out to ask how I was doing in light of the events surrounding the senseless murder of George Floyd. And although my grief and pain pales in comparison to what the Floyd family is experiencing, as an African American and human being, I feel a profound sense of anguish over what I have now witnessed through multiple video accounts and recordings of those 9 minutes that ended his life on a city street.

The next question Pastor Dave asked was, Goodie, what can I do to help? I had no response. If I'm honest, I had a rush of emotions and thoughts when he asked that question. I wanted to answer, but I wanted first to pray and give some thought to his question. I know Pastor Dave was coming from a genuine place of vulnerability, compassion, grief, and love when he asked both questions. I wanted to respond in a manner worthy of his temperament.

After much prayer and reflection, I've arrived at few practical steps that can be taken, particularly by non African Americans, to help move our nation and our communities forward, steps that non African Americans can take to be better allies to their friends and loved ones of color. Keep in mind that the Floyd family does not have this luxury. Grief and pain have interrupted their lives in a way no person should ever experience.

The list below is not exhaustive. But it's a start. I'm thankful to my mentor and brother in the faith, Reggie Lyles, for his input. He is a retired Captain of Police in the Bay Area, with over 30 years of law enforcement experience. He is also a person of deep and abiding faith, who has devoted his life to matters of justice and equality. Additionally, I'm thankful to my editor and colleague Barbara Wood for her expertise and support in helping me gather my thoughts in ways that can be most useful.

A final note: I invite you to pray both before and after reading these steps. In doing so, I'm confident you will hear from the Transcendent God, about how you should respond next.

Speak Up
In your daily conversations with family members, with colleagues and friends, and in your posts on social media, speak up. This event (and those that have played out before) and this issue needs to be discussed intelligently, yet denounced resoundingly. There is no middle ground. Silence, when dark skies of injustice are showering down racism, abuse of power, and hatred does not bring shelter nor reprieve to those exposed to such elements. Their suffering is only compounded when you are silent. I'm convinced each human being is equipped with a sense of what is right and decent. But we must also act upon what is right and decent. Knowing what to do is one thing. But, knowing what to do and doing that which we know to do, brings wholeness in our unique purpose and global responsibility. Speak up.

There are organizations and individuals in your community and nationally who give of themselves to advocate for justice and who work to bridge divides between law enforcement and the community. Send them support. In some instances, that literally means money. Groups such as the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative, and Sojourners are worth investing in with your time and treasure. Where appropriate, send support to victims' families or even notes of encouragement. As an MLK Jr. scholar, I cannot tell you how many documents of support I came across in my research: checks, receipts, letters of support, and cards of encouragement that were sent to King and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Council. King read them. His staff read them. Those resources mattered to the civil rights movement. They mattered to King. Your support matters as well. Additionally, send notes to local and state officials when these injustices are most evident (City Manager's Offices, Chiefs of Police, District Attorney's Offices, etc.). They need to hear from you.

There are a number of writings (historical and contemporary) that speak to the issues of hatred, injustice, and the nation's longest unconfessed sin: racism. Take time to engage these works and learn:The Warmth of Other Suns (by Isabel Wilkerson),The New Jim Crow (by Michelle Alexander),White Fragility (by Robin DiAngelo),Between the World and Me (by Ta-Nehisi Coates),The Michael Eric Dyson Reader (a collection of writings by Michael Eric Dyson), and 13th (a documentary directed by Ava DuVernay).

Know This
Racism is a system. It is not an isolated event or occurrence that only happens on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in New York City's Central Park, or on a suburban road in the coastal city of Brunswick, Georgia. Racism is a system with biases and sinful strongholds through and through. It will take some time to dismantle that system. For police departments specifically: matters such as recruiting, training of officers and support staff, management, correction, leadership development, as well as indicting, prosecuting, and sentencing are all parts of that system that need to be examined and reconfigured. No police department is perfect. No city is immune to failure in its basic charge: to protect and serve its citizens. This is why each police department and local governing body must work to build trust with the community, be transparent when investigations arise, and be willing to confront internal flaws that are inconsistent with its mission or values.

Reject the Narrative
With George Floyd and all too often in other cases such as his, we hear statements like, “He was a good man” or “He was a loving father and did not deserve this.” This may be true. Those are descriptions that those who love and knew him are permitted to make. Others should use caution, however. We hear these statements over and over: George Floyd's death is tragic because he was a good man; Eric Garner's death is disheartening because he was a good father; Michael Brown's death is alarming because he made right decisions in life. But the reality is this: Floyd's death (and others for that matter) is tragic because he was a human being. His life mattered. The “good man” description garners sympathy for the victim while supporting the lie that as a rule, black people display a norm of violent or criminal behavior. The narrative that this “good man” did not deserve to die communicates an exception to this false rule. The truth of the matter is this: George Floyd did not deserve to die. Full Stop. He did not deserve to meet his death on the streets of Minneapolis, with his face pressed down like roped cattle, with a police officer's knee on his neck, crying out: “I can't breathe,” “My stomach hurts,” and “Momma,” as bystanders recorded his last breath. All lives matter. Not just the ones we deem as “good.”

Engage Your Faith (Faith Without Works is Dead)

If you are a person of faith, look to the Scriptures for guidance on these matters. But engage and research the news as well. Understand the context and culture you live in. As a follower of Jesus, I am mindful of how Jesus treated those who looked different from him or those who were considered by context and culture to be “other”—outsiders, the overlooked, and the left out. He spoke about heaven and eternity, but he also addressed people's earthly conditions, their mindsets, and the structures and people who abused their power and influence over others. I'm mindful of the Old Testament prophets Jeremiah (Chapter 22), Micah (6:8), Amos (5:24), and Habakkuk (Chapters 1-3), and Jesus' teachings from the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).

Read This
In “A Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed his greatest disappointment and frustration with people of faith, specifically white Christian leaders. In this letter specifically, he was speaking to eight white Christian clergymen. I need not add commentary to King's letter, which in my humble opinion, is a 20th Century Epistle. King's words express my sentiments and the sentiments of many of my African American sisters and brothers who lead in communities of faith. I've been greatly disappointed in the church and many of its leaders on matters such as these. However, as King states, “there can be no great disappointment where there is no great love.” I love my sisters and brothers who lead in communities of faith. I am disappointed at how many have not led when injustice and racism reared their ugly heads. Yet, like King, my head and heart ache to build relationships with women and men of goodwill, who do not look like me, to find a way forward.

If you're a leader—if you influence others or have been entrusted to serve others— you must lead. Leadership is not seasonal. It's not exclusive to moments of celebration or when positive momentum is evident. Leadership is also expressed in times of uncertainty and discomfort. It's seen (or not seen) during pandemics, amid racial tensions, and against the backdrop of rogue police officers' actions on a city street; leadership is embraced even in the midst of human fragility. I'm convinced that leadership is a gift. And in accordance with the Scriptures, you are required to lead with all diligence (Romans 12:8). Leadership is the constant rhythm of your life: your coming and going. Leadership is breathing and becoming. It is both now and in the not yet. At times you will be celebrated as a leader; but it you may be unpopular at times as well. Speaking up on matters of injustice, hatred, abuse of power, or racism will test your leadership gift and capacity. But I'm convinced the greater test will be one of the heart, and thus your character. It's time to lead. With all diligence.

Ask and Listen
I want to challenge you, especially if you are not African American, to dig deeper into the stories and struggles of Black people. No other people group has the history and the relationship we have with this nation. Building relationships should be your first and foremost step. Hosting a dinner or inviting someone to sit with you over a cup of coffee is a way forward. Ask: tell me your story, your dreams, hopes, and fears. Secondly, attend workshops like Training for Change's “Whites Confronting Racism” or the People's Institute's “European Dissent.” Consider attending the White Privilege Conference or the Facing Race Conference. And finally, pray and ask God to give you a heart of empathy and compassion toward people who do not look like you, vote like you, or worship in the same manner as you do. 

Adhere to the philosophy of nonviolence as you resist racism, hatred, and oppression. Martin Luther King Jr. advocated for nonviolent direct action. In other words, the protests although peaceful, were always direct and to the heart of the matter. He comforted those who were wronged and confronted those who did wrong. Violence, destruction of property, or threats towards elected officials or law enforcement—none of these is the way forward. We've seen such actions play out on streets and in capital cities around the country during the pandemic: protesters spewing hateful language, carrying assault weapons, and confronting law enforcement agents. There is no honor in such protest. They are at the very least terroristic, and have no place in our society. King's way of civil disobedience, by any measurement, brought the most progress in our nation on matters of civil rights and justice. I'm convinced they will be the way forward today.

Written by Dr. Marcus "Goodie" Goodloe

Marcus "Goodie" Goodloe, Ph.D. is  Senior Fellow for Ethics and Justice Institute for Global Engagement at Dallas Baptist University.