Just Us, With a Job to Do: Reflections on the Morning After the Verdict in Minneapolis
In elementary schools in Houston, I suspect that the five Floyd children started their school days the way most American kids did: standing up, turning to the flag on the dowel of balsa wood, placing their hands over their hearts, making the pledge. After saying the words “With liberty and justice for all,” they got to work.
So it was, I imagine, with Big George, and with his kid brother Philonise.
I couldn’t help thinking of that image as I heard Philonise say after yesterday’s verdict, “Justice for George means freedom for all.”
Justice: it is the deepest REM in the American Dream.
I live in Springfield, Massachusetts. It’s an old Underground Railroad city where Frederick Douglass met John Brown. It’s the place where Martin Luther King gave a memorable speech just before the Civil Rights Act became law. It’s also a city where an African-American church was burned to the ground on the night when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.
One of Springfield’s iconic businesses is Merriam-Webster, which promotes a “word of the year” based on annual dictionary searches. The word was “justice” in 2018, but in a real sense that is always the word in America. That is always the quest.
King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech is, at its core, a yearning for justice. He mentions the word “justice” or “injustice” eleven separate times in one poetic way after another:
· The Emancipation Proclamation was a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice
· Despite everything, we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt
· We seek the sunlit path of racial justice rather than the quicksands of racial injustice
· Because Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children
· But if not now, The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
Dr. King was roiled by the hard quest for optimism. He so wanted to believe in America. Beneath his iconic words about the arc of the moral universe being long but bending toward justice was the clear imperative that we need to do the hard work to make that happen. There is nothing automatic about progress.
After all, just 18 days after that glowing speech at the Lincoln Memorial, four young girls in white dresses were dynamited to death in a Birmingham church. Sarah Collins Rudolph, the surviving sister of one of those girls, lost the sight in one eye because of a flying shard of glass.
Almost sixty years later, as we woke up today, what could we see by the dawn’s early light? Yes, things feel lighter, more hopeful. But it is also sobering to consider that even with the courageous and horrific video shot by Darnella Frazier (of Big George gasping for breath and crying out for his mother)…even then, things could be so uncertain with so many Americans holding their breath when the jury began to deliberate. That kind of evidence is not going to be there most of the time.
We owe a debt to the legions of Black and Brown people who have been such stalwart patriots despite a million reasons to give up hope. I hear the echo of Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers’ aching voice, “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.”
Time will tell, of course, if yesterday’s verdict proves to be a true turning point or just a swing of the metronome.
Last June, George Floyd’s then 6-year-old daughter, Gianna, asserted that “Daddy changed the world.” This morning, I imagine her heading into school, facing a flag on a wooden dowel, placing her hand over her heart and reciting those dreamy words about justice.
The least that we can pledge is to push harder on that arc to give her dream a fighting chance.