The death of George Floyd and confrontation in Central Park: Praying for a Pentecost miracle today

George Floyd

George Floyd was born in North Carolina and moved to Houston as a baby. He grew into a talented athlete who played football and basketball, receiving a basketball scholarship to Florida State University.

According to the mother of his six-year-old daughter, he didn’t finish school, eventually returning to Houston, where he became involved in music. He left the city for Minneapolis around 2018.

“Being black in America should not be a death sentence” 

On Monday, police officers responded to a “forgery in progress.” A police statement says they were “advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence. Two officers arrived and located the suspect, an African American male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step out of his car. 

“After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance.” 

However, the police statement left out a scene recorded by a bystander that has shocked the nation: a Minneapolis police officer keeps his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes, during which the unarmed man repeatedly cried out, “I can’t breathe!” 

“Please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man, please,” Mr. Floyd said to the officer. “I can’t move. Everything hurts. Give me some water or something, please. I can’t breathe, officer.” As the officer continued to crush his neck with his knee, Mr. Floyd added, “They’re going to kill me. They’re going to kill me, man.” 

An ambulance then took Mr. Floyd to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. 

By Tuesday afternoon, the four officers involved had been fired. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called Mr. Floyd’s death “simply awful” and “wrong at every level.” He stated: “This man’s life matters, he matters. He was someone’s son, someone’s family member, someone’s friend. He was a human being and his life mattered.” 

The mayor added: “Being black in America should not be a death sentence.” 

Being black in America should not be a death sentence.
~ Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey

“A punch in the gut for a lot of people” 

Christian Cooper is a Harvard graduate who serves on the board of the New York City Audubon Society and has long been a prominent bird watcher in New York City. 

Around 8:10 a.m. Monday, in a section of Central Park where dogs are required to be leashed at all times, Mr. Cooper came upon a woman whose dog was unleashed. He asked her to leash the dog, but she refused. He then moved to offer the dog a treat, thinking this would encourage her to put the pet on its leash. 

Instead, she called 911 to report that an “African American” was threatening her and her dog. He recorded a video of their exchange and her call as she asked the authorities to “please send the cops immediately!” The police arrived and determined that “two individuals had engaged in a verbal dispute.” No summons were issued or arrests made. 

The woman later publicly apologized to Mr. Cooper. By Tuesday afternoon, she had been fired by her employer. Mr. Cooper said in an interview that he had been overwhelmed by the response to his video. However, public retribution against the woman had taken him aback: “If our goal is to change the underlying factors, I am not sure that this young woman having her life completely torn apart serves that goal.” 

A professor who studies race relations noted that the confrontation “was particularly a punch in the gut for a lot of people. It ties into and taps into a long history of white women, in particular, falsely accusing black men of crimes that leads to great harm.” 

How racism wins 

After the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery, I published a research paper on racism on our website. I also recorded a podcast conversation with my dear friend, Tyrone Johnson, in which I asked him to describe what it is like to be an African American living in our North Dallas community. 

Neither of us knew then that we would have to revisit this horrible subject again this week. As we talked Tuesday about George Floyd’s death and the Central Park confrontation, Tyrone made a profound point in light of Monday’s Memorial Day observance: just like white soldiers, black soldiers died to protect our nation’s freedoms, but their descendants and families are still fighting for what they died for. 

In a Gallup poll, six in ten Americans said racism against blacks is widespread in the United States. But note the racial split: 82 percent of blacks agreed, compared to just 56 percent of whites. Another poll found that 66 percent of nonwhites consider prejudice a “very serious” problem, while only 39 percent of whites agree. 

I am writing to make this point: God hates racism. He hates prejudice. He hates it when we discriminate against each other. His word demands that we see each other as he sees us: children of the same Father (Genesis 1:28), members of the same human race (Genesis 3:20Acts 17:26), each of us equally valuable in the eyes of our Lord (Galatians 3:28). 

Please don’t ever tolerate what God forbids. Don’t shrug your emotional shoulders when another black person suffers prejudice or worse in our society. Don’t resign yourself to this as the “way things are.” Don’t stop loving as God loves and calling every person you know to do the same. 

Otherwise, racism wins. 

Please don’t ever tolerate what God forbids.
~ Jim Denison

Pray for the miracle of Pentecost 

Pentecost is this Sunday. On the first Christian Pentecost, the Holy Spirit moved in the hearts of fifteen different language groups, molding them into the single body of Christ (Acts 2:9–1141). 

In light of that miracle, Henri Nouwen noted: “The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised to his followers, is the great gift of God. Without the Spirit of Jesus we can do nothing, but in and through his Spirit we can live free, joyful, and courageous lives. . . . We cannot create peace and joy, but the Spirit of Christ can fill us with a peace and joy that is not of this world. 

“We cannot break through the many barriers that divide races, sexes, and nations, but the Spirit of Christ unites all people in the all-embracing love of God. The Spirit of Christ burns away our many fears and anxieties and sets us free to move wherever we are sent. That is the great liberation of Pentecost.”

Please join me in asking the Spirit to liberate our hearts and our nation today.

We cannot break through the many barriers that divide races, sexes, and nations, but the Spirit of Christ unites all people in the all-embracing love of God.
~ Henri Nouwen