We know who killed George Floyd, but do we really know what killed him?
From the battered streets of our cities come a confused series of answers to an admittedly complicated question. There is unrest in America as we write this. There is division. There is racial tension. And they are slowly unraveling what it means to be American.
If we ever want to move forward and achieve “real change” that is promised us by so many politicians, we have to confront the racial tensions that bubble under the surface of our country. Yes, it is important that we prosecute the police officer who killed George Floyd, but that’s not where our responsibility ends.
Until we come together as a nation and address these racial issues, they will always be there, waiting to erupt when injustice occurs, as in the case of George Floyd.
We are not willing to embrace inchoate complaints about “the system” when it comes to addressing our country’s racial tensions. That may be of comfort to those who merely look for an excuse to burn down and destroy what they have deemed unworthy of existence.
But we believe in America. With all of its flaws and problems, we believe that the solution to the problem lies in our country’s character. It is in our DNA. And even when we fall short, those principles are still there for us, like a beacon to bring us home.
We grew up in the Jim Crow South, and can remember the pain of segregation. We marched in the American civil rights movement alongside great leaders like Dr. King. We helped organize college students in non-violent resistance, and played a part in a movement that changed our country forever.
So you can imagine how painful it is to see racial tensions continue to erupt in violence more than 50 years later.
We remember being college students, and saying, “If only we had a Black mayor,” (or Black congressman or governor), things would be different. Decades later, we’ve seen Black men and women at all levels of power — even a Black president — but racial tensions don’t improve.
One of the reasons is that the civil rights movement has been hijacked by manipulative politicians (of all races) who are only interested in Black issues as a pathway to power. As explained in our book, “A Dream Derailed,” African American voters are taken for granted by one party and, until President Trump, were largely ignored by the other.
We’ve seen decades of policies that helped destroy the Black family and the Black community. But finding leaders who are willing to tell the truth about what is happening is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
That’s not just true for the African American community. That’s true for America as a whole. As we look around at the violence in our cities, we keep asking, “Where are the leaders?” On both sides, where are the leaders?
The rioting and the looting are a disgrace, but some politicians are so lacking in principle that they’re willing to excuse the rioters or pacify them — all for political gain.
This is a nation of laws, and we need strong leaders to restore order. We need to confront the issue of race head-on — not with hand-wringing and meaningless “mea culpas” from leftists who think that’s what Black people want to hear. But we need to confront these issues with love, understanding, and a belief in something bigger than ourselves.
That is why we need prayer and God. Because we know that something is broken. We know that there is frustration, resentment, and fear in our cities. However, destruction and division will only deepen these problems, not solve them.
As we did during the civil rights movement — and have ever since — we stand with the peaceful protesters. They are the ones who will help us move forward to a new era of peace and justice.
We call on our brothers and sisters around the country to turn away from the anger, chaos and disorder. Instead, let’s work to get back to the point where we find healing and common cause. Let us remember what is great about America, and restore the belief in our most cherished values.
Only then will we be able to realize Dr. King’s dream, where “all of God’s children” will join hands and sing, “free at last.”
Bill Owens is a reverend, and both authors represent the Coalition of African American Pastors.