• Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner

How Long, O Lord, How Long Will Black Men Be Killed by the Virus of Hatred and Fear

MAY 28,2020 |

The video image of a White Minneapolis policeman pinning down a handcuffed Black man, George Floyd with his knee for seven long minutes despite Floyd continually repeating, “I can’t breathe,” has absolutely pierced my heart. As the grandmother of five Black male children, I find myself crying out to God in prayer on their behalf, and for the many other Black men in my world---my godson, my pastor, my brothers, my male clergy colleagues, young men in our millennial leadership program, and others. I am crying out today, much like the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, who centuries ago cried out in response to injustice of his time, saying:


How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?

Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?

Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?

Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.

Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.

The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. - Habakkuk 1:1-4


Habakkuk said it all! Violence against Black men is everywhere in America: Eric Garner, who also died five years ago when multiple police restrained him and ignored his “I can’t breathe;” also Michael Brown. Freddie Gray, countless others, and, now George Floyd. The whole world repeatedly saw the video of the policeman with his knee bearing down on George Floyd's neck like an animal until he died, while three policemen stood watching in silent consent. All were sworn to uphold the law. All perverted it.


This is exactly why in 2017 former National Football League star quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, took a knee against the virus of systemic inequities in the criminal justice system as others stood to salute the flag. He shocked the sports and political world, angered many Americans, and was blacklisted by team owners in the prime of his career for taking a knee for justice. Top leaders and many Americans were indignant that he would dare take a knee in protest of the nation’s unjust criminal justice system even as videotaped killings of unarmed black men continued.


The public execution of a handcuffed George Floyd is why Americans of conscience and people of faith must speak out against killer cops who abuse their authority and pervert justice. It is way past time to demand fair policing for all Americans. Fair policing is not an attack on police. It is a call for policing that assures the safety of citizens of every background, race, and culture.


Fair policing is not an attack on police. It is a call for policing that assures the safety of citizens of every background, race, and culture.

Several years ago, many White Americans reacted with visceral anger and disgust when Black protesters and allies cried out “Black Lives Matter,” “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” or “I Can’t Breathe,” following repeated police killings of unarmed Black men. Some claimed that repeated accounts of unfair policing were exaggerated. However, we have yet to see unarmed White Americans systematically killed by police. What we all know in our hearts is that if George Floyd had been White, at best, he would have been arrested, but still alive. In contrast to participating in the carnage of Black men, and females like Breonna Taylor, the police are seen as protectors of White America. Repeatedly, the police are weaponized by White Americans against law-abiding Black Americans whether they are mowing lawns, meeting at Starbucks, golfing, or napping at a college campus dorm.


On May 26th, a Black man, an avid bird watcher, asked a White woman to leash her dog in Central Park, as the rules required. She refused and called the police claiming falsely the he attacked her, fully confident the police would respond on her behalf. In recent days, in open-carry state of Michigan, assault rifle bearing White protesters crowded the state capital demanding and threatening the governor to end the “stay-at-home” ban, despite escalating COVID-19 cases, very comfortable that the police would watch quietly and protect them against any counter protesters. Past experiences have taught us that a similar gathering of Black protesters threateningly brandishing assault rifles would not have been welcomed by police and would have produced widespread fear in White Americans.


Our nation now mourns and laments more than 100,000 Americans of all backgrounds who have died from the deadly coronavirus in less than four months. A disproportionate number of them are African Americans for whom the coronavirus has fully exposed the virus of historic inequities, not only in health care, but also in the criminal justice system. Is it not enough for Black citizens to face a deadly COVID-19, the potential loss of 40% of African American businesses, reduced black homeownership---the foundation of African American wealth, and escalating job loss as many businesses devastated by the pandemic? Must they also continue to endure the virus of fear and hatred reflected in racialized policing, not seeking to protect, but to control, subdue, and even kill them. The constant pandemic-inspired television reminders that “we are all in this together" ring hollow for those daily impacted by the virus of White fear of Black people, that too often, makes being black a death sentence. 


The Lord answered the prophet Habakkuk’s question, “How long will justice be perverted?” by telling him to write down the vision of the future. As we consider a future “new normal” once the pandemic subsides, my hope is that Americans of good will and people of faith would write the vision of a “new normal” free of the virus of racialized policing so we never hear again an unarmed Black man’s desperate cry, “I can’t breathe.” Indeed, if it is true that we are all in this together,” then if George Floyd, and Eric Garner can’t breathe”, then neither can the rest of us until policing truly means protecting the lives of all Americans.

BWSBWS@SkinnerLeadership.org

P.O. Box 31309  | Washington, DC 20030

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© 2019 Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner