I Can’t Breathe
A guest post by Dr. Angelle M. Jones
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?”
–Micah 6:8a (NIV)
America has been on trial and the verdict is in.
The murder of George Floyd before the world one year ago, and the trial the next, revealed the uncomfortable narrative of the pain and injustice inflicted upon Black America since slavery.
After the largest civil rights protest in years, former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
The victim, a Black man named George Floyd, became a household name while the world watched the White officer use his knee to render a neck compression restraint, with his hands in his pockets and a sneer on his face until Floyd took his final breath. Almost a year later, millions watched the broadcast of the trial, figuratively holding their breath until the verdict was reached. Although Floyd had heart disease and drugs were found in his body, the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide. Restrained, Floyd cried out for his mother twice while breathlessly moaning, “I can’t breathe” in his final moments that left an indelible mark on the world.
During the trial, the defense attorney argued that Floyd’s crying, “I can’t breathe,” was a type of resisting arrest. The attorney went on to say that during the arrest, the officer acted with “objective reasonableness”. In other words, the defending argument concluded that because he fought against being handcuffed and shoved into the back of the squad car, the way the police officer restrained Floyd was warranted. Listening to the audio of the video, amidst the tussling you could hear Floyd crying out for help as he told the officer he was claustrophobic. With no evidence of a weapon causing the officer to feel endangered, he offered Floyd no help.
The idea that it was suggested that his death was because he resisted arrest or had drugs in his body revealed to the world the way policing in America works between officers and Black people. Based on history, there was still fear that the officer would be vindicated.
Floyd may have been accused of resisting arrest, but in fact, it is the resistance by White America to deal with the reality of racism, in policing as well as in every facet of society every day. The painful cry of Floyd for his mother while gasping for his breath could’ve been viewed as a depiction of the pain Black people have had to endure since slavery.
The nine minutes that he couldn’t breathe, while having his life slowly drained from him was a slow and painful enactment of the years of pain and suffering inflicted upon Black people as a result of systemic racism. The video clip shown over and over from May 2020 until May 2021, served as a bird’s-eye view of nearly 400 years of legalized punishment for being Black in America. The intersectionality between America’s painful past and the reality of the present, exposed the systemic racist police practices that have been used to dehumanize Black people since slavery. Until White America accepts African-Americans as human, the dehumanization of Black and Brown bodies will continue.
Since the murder of Floyd, the discussion of defunding or the intentional deconstruction and reconstruction of the police has taken a front seat. With some resistance especially since the trial, the world has shifted to the much bigger discussion of some type of police reform. The resistance ranging from those who think reform is not necessary, to those who believe it is imperative, reveals a panoramic view of a problem deeply embedded in American culture. While the breath continues to be literally and figuratively drained from the bodies of Black Americans, this country is faced with a decision. Watching the breath of Floyd stolen from him was a depiction of the countless Black bodies stolen as a result of police shootings today. The decision to not only be better as individuals, but collectively as a nation must be made.
In reflecting on policing and the loss of Black lives, I’m reminded of the scriptures surrounding Micah 6:8. The prophet Micah spoke to a culture very similar to that of America. A culture characterized by the sins of idolatry, immorality, injustice, and rebellion against worshipping God. Micah was emphasizing the importance of one not only knowing what to do, but actually doing it and living it according to God’s Word.
Micah proclaimed the coming of the Christ child, in the second chapter of his book (Micah). He told us about the One who could redeem humanity from the sin of racism. The One who could breathe life into this country with all its racist structures and systems. The One who could reform not only the system of policing but the police themselves. In Micah chapter 6, the prophet boldly proclaimed what was required of the people and nations identified as belonging to God. In Micah 6:8, he declared three practical requirements to exemplify God’s breath of life in a breathless society. The Scripture (Micah 6:8 NIV) reads:
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
The first requirement was to act justly, a divine justice that goes beyond a law, beyond thinking laws alone would bring lasting heart changes. This was a justice of ethics and morals implemented in one’s daily lives, a justice that called for societal reformation. Today, this type of justice calls for police to be servants by doing justly to those they serve.
The next requirement was God calling for His people to love mercy. Not to only show mercy but to love it to the degree that they extend to others what they don’t deserve. If mercy had been extended toward Floyd for trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill, he could’ve received a simple pardon instead of a death sentence.
The third requirement is to walk humbly with God. Walking humbly grounds our walk with the Lord. Humility is the grace needed to do justice and love mercy. Floyd needed mercy, not death.
Let’s Pray: Lord, I humble myself in prayer asking you to breathe on America and heal our land. Help us to see you in our brothers and sisters and to love one another like you love each of us. Help us to acknowledge racism in our country and to do our part to eradicate it from our hearts, our country, and our world. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.
“Inspiring and Motivating With the Power of Words”
Dr. Angelle M. Jones believes that the power of words inspires, and motivate to bring about transformative change individually and collectively.
Angelle originally hails from Cleveland, Ohio. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in African-American studies from the University of Cincinnati. Angelle has a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia and an earned Doctorate in Ministry on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, and his philosophy of The Beloved Community from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
Her ministry career began as a staff member of the Northeastern Ohio Billy Graham Crusade in 1994. For twenty years, as founder and director of In The Spirit Ministries, Inc., she led teams on mission outreaches throughout the world. From 2007-2012, Angelle served as Missions Director of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio where she currently resides. Angelle is founder and director of GlobaLife Coaching and Consulting serving as a Life and Transformation Coach and Church Consultant.
In 2016, Angelle authored and self-published her first book, Happily Never After. Along with sharing words of hope by sharing her writings on her social media platforms, she has been published in Vantage Magazine which is a literary source for faculty, students and alumni of Columbia Theological Seminary, and Ready, which is a cutting-edge online magazine addressing current events and trending socially relevant topics for women.
Angelle is the mother of an adult daughter. She is a grandmother and great-grandmother.
Connect with Dr. Angelle: