One year after George Floyd’s murder, religious leaders continue to call for racial reckoning
(RNS) – Los Angeles pastor Stephen “Cue” Jn-Marie quickly points out that the movement for black lives and Matter lives has been going on for eight years, but he believes it is “an act of God” that ‘transformed last year into the largest social movement in US and world history.
“Who can articulate this, if not a religious leader?” he added.
For Jn-Marie, who founded the Church Without Walls in Skid Row, the Black Lives Matter movement is valid without religious leaders but, he said, the clergy help “people see the heart of God for the sake of it. movement”.
A year ago, the death of George Floyd below the knee of a police officer galvanized the nation – and ultimately much of the world – in months of historic protests against police brutality and systemic racism and in favor of the black life. The clergy were often at the center of these protests, and their appeal not only to politicians but also to religious leaders sparked racial judgment in churches, synagogues and mosques. On the anniversary of his death, these leaders reflect on how much has changed – and what remains to be done.
“The murder of George Floyd brought a renewed urgency to end the epidemic of anti-black police violence and deep-rooted injustices in our justice system,” said Madihha Ahussain, senior policy adviser for Muslim Advocates. She pointed to what she described as the landmark verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer, who was convicted of murdering Floyd as he knelt around Floyd’s neck, as proof “a change is possible”. But, she said, there is still a long way to go.
She noted the work done by Muslim Advocates on behalf of Muhammad Muhaymin Jr., a disabled black Muslim who died in Phoenix custody in 2017. Recently released video footage reveals an eerie echo of Floyd’s death, as Muhaymin shouts “I can’t breathe”, under the knee of a policeman.
“We have to fight to hold the other officers involved in Floyd’s murder to account. We must also fight for Muhaymin, Ronald Greene, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, Breonna Taylor and so many other victims of police violence, ”Ahussain said.
Black ministers have often led the charge. Reverend Greg Drumwright of Greensboro, NC, is one.
Four days after Floyd’s death, Drumwright flew to Minneapolis. He befriended Floyd’s parents and offered them pastoral care. In April of this year, he spent six weeks in Minneapolis escorting family members to the courthouse on all days of Chauvin’s trial.
But Floyd’s death was just the beginning.
Drumwright has taken action on a host of other racial justice issues this year – much closer to home. He and members of his new grassroots organization, Justice 4 the Next Generation (J4NG, for short), led a half-dozen protests for greater racial justice in Alamance County, North Carolina, where the Sheriff used aggressive police tactics targeting blacks and Latinos. . Most recently, Drumwright made several trips to Elizabeth City, on the eastern edge of the state, where last month an unarmed black man was shot dead by sheriff’s deputies serving a search warrant related to the drug.
Drumwright also acknowledged seeing some progress over the past year for which he is grateful. The Chauvin verdict is one example. He went to Virginia to watch Gov. Ralph S. Northam sign Breonna’s law prohibiting beating warrants (named after Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death when three officers used a restraining warrant to enter his apartment.)
“America’s consciousness has been awakened and that is why we are continuing on this journey, even beyond George Floyd’s birthday,” Drumwright said. “Was that enough? Not almost.
Howard University’s Faculty of Divinity and Sojourners, a Christian advocacy and media organization, were already months into a new “theology and racialized police cohort program” when Floyd was killed. About 45 participants immediately found themselves putting into practice what they were learning.
“Many of our people were speakers at protests and expressed a theological voice during this time calling for accountability, transparency and justice,” said Reverend Terrance McKinley, Director of Racial Justice and Mobilizing for Sojourners .
Since the predominantly black but diverse clergy group completed the certificate program last summer, they’ve acted on the lessons they’ve learned: An African Methodist episcopal pastor from Zion leads his church in Washington to team up to a predominantly white Catholic church to focus on reconciliation and strategize. to resolve local issues. A Baptist pastor in Washington has developed a code of conduct for his community and more regularly preaches on social justice. The Virginia participants are seeking to create a local civilian oversight board and other means to investigate police violence.
McKinley said a second pilot program took place this spring in conjunction with Duke Divinity School and featured black and Latino clergy focusing on immigration and law enforcement issues and the resulting trauma for communities of color. He hopes the program will soon be a national program that will support teams of two senior leaders and two young “next generation” pastors or seminarians in cities where there have been high-profile incidents of police violence.
“Change will only happen if we work to bring it about,” McKinley said.
Michigan Episcopal Bishop Bonnie Perry hopes this moment can “create a movement in the Episcopal Church and beyond.”
Six Episcopal Bishops, including Perry, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Reverend Mariann Budde of Washington, DC and Reverend Craig Loya of the Episcopal Church of Minnesota, will lead a “prayerful commemoration” of Floyd’s life at the occasion of the first anniversary of his death.
The pre-recorded service will air at 8 p.m. EST on Tuesday, May 25 on the Facebook pages of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis and other participating dioceses. The service will include a wailing prayer from George Floyd Square in Minneapolis; a candlelit “act of remembrance” from Ferguson, Missouri; and a video marking the 9 minutes and 29 seconds Chauvin knelt with his knee on Floyd’s neck.
“My hope for this service is that we could mark the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder nationally and then be motivated to act locally, addressing issues of systemic racism in our own contexts,” Perry said in a commentary. written statement.
In Minneapolis, the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, which opened to offer sanctuary and medical support to protesters in May 2020, will participate in several events to mark the anniversary, according to Rev. Ingrid Arneson Rasmussen, including a memorial event in George Floyd Square and running an arts space for “community complaints”.
Faith in Public Life, a justice-focused coalition of church leaders, released a short video of church leaders remembering Floyd and calling for police accountability, along with a statement by CEO Jennifer Butler calling for ” true justice ”and arguing for the BREATHE law, which would redirect tax dollars from police services to public resources. “Believers have an important role to play in this moral movement, following the lead of the prophetic organizers who brought about this historic moment,” said Butler.
In the video, Reverend Jacqui Lewis of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City said justice would be Floyd – and others killed by gun violence, especially police – still alive. And Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, researcher-in-residence at the National Council of Jewish Women, appealed to the scriptures, saying, “The verses of Deuteronomy don’t just issue a verdict when the accountability bar is on the floor, is in the basement, is deep. in the molten heart of the earth, but to set up systems of justice, which are fair to everyone, all the time.
In retrospect, Los Angeles pastor Jn-Marie said it was difficult for many religious leaders to fully embrace Black Lives Matter. Some may disagree with the movement’s support for the LGBTQ community or find it difficult to tackle peaceful protests that have resulted in clashes with police, Jn-Marie said.
“I think a lot of pastors believe… that in order for them to support (the movement), Black Lives Matter has to behave in a certain way,” said Jn-Marie, who took part in marches that started peacefully but which ended with numerous arrests. and tense clashes with the police. “It has to adhere to a certain philosophy and they just can’t support Black Lives Matter because black lives matter, but the movement has to fit within the parameters of ‘Respectable Negroes’ or respectable politics and the BLM. opposes this.
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Since Floyd’s death, Southern California religious leaders alongside Black Lives Matter leaders have called on cities to spend less on police and incarceration and more on youth programs and housing. Jn-Marie with Black Lives Matter LA has argued for the ouster of city leaders like Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey for what activists saw as mismanagement of cases of police brutality.
Since then, LA County voters approved a measure in November that will redirect more county funds to social services and prison alternatives. Lacey, who had the backing of the police and sheriff unions, lost her fight for the city attorney position to challenger George Gascón, who championed Black Lives Matter LA criminal justice activism.
Now, Black Lives Matter LA activists aim to overthrow the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents more than 9,000 police officers.
“We must stay in these streets,” said Jn-Marie.