We're all in this together.
That's a safe phrase we've been using to show solidarity during this pandemic. And why not? COVID-19 has no allies, ideology, or belief system that might create supporters. We may disagree on when to wear masks or when to open businesses, but we are all against COVID-19.
But how about race relations, law enforcement, or criminal justice reform? Would that same phrase "we're all in this together" apply? Are we even close to being of one mind on those issues?
At 11 am this past Saturday, about 3,000 souls gathered at Depot Park in Gainesville to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th, and then they walked about a mile down Main Street to Bo Diddley Plaza. They marched peacefully, passionately, and symbolically... in the other person's shoes. Among the 3,000 were blacks, whites, young, old, conservatives, and liberals, to name just a few of the diverse people groups in attendance. There were 3,000 people with 3,000 opinions yet one cause on this humid summer morning.
A March for Freedom.
It's important to look for common ground with an issue as controversial, heated, and escalating as George Floyd's killing. And in this case, perhaps there are a few elements of agreement.
The violence, looting, and vandalism in Minneapolis and other cities is frustrating, dangerous, and unnecessary. It puts innocent people at risk. It compounds the struggles these communities are already experiencing, and it detracts from the cause.
If you excuse these illegal actions, how can you then call for criminal justice and law enforcement reform? The protests have to model the standards they are advocating for, or chaos will overtake the message.
All of us should agree with that level of consistency as it applies to a protest. We should also agree that the vast majority of protests and protesters have been peaceful and inspiring like the March for Freedom in Gainesville. They do not deserve to be the secondary story to those taking advantage of the protests to wreak havoc.
As the protests have continued for over a week now across the US, it should be a reminder of the ongoing struggle to reform police practices that these communities of color have experienced for decades. That last point is certainly debatable, but what is not is the treatment George Floyd received by former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.
All of us by now have watched the video in horror as Floyd pleads for his life to no avail. We see Chauvin's transition from an officer to a murderer. We see his cold stare away from Floyd; his merciless tactics absent from any police training he may have received. His casual, callous hand-in-his-pocket attitude. His utter lack of empathy or even human decency to the extreme plight of Floyd.
Chauvin may have worn a uniform that day, but he did not represent the standards of a police officer who takes an oath to serve, protect, and defend. And law enforcement leaders across the country agreed. These were not the actions of an officer their agencies would stand for.
Locally, every single police chief and sheriff in Alachua County signed a joint statement denouncing Chauvin's actions.
It reads, in part:
"The tragedy in Minneapolis forces us to look within ourselves and ensure that only those who understand our solemn commitment to the badge are able to wear that symbol of authority. We grieve for the family and friends of George Floyd and the residents of Minneapolis. We thank the law enforcement officers who have spoken out and condemned the untenable actions of those officers who were involved in Mr. Floyd's death."
In a press conference the day before the march, Gainesville Police Chief
Tony Jones also condemned the actions of Chauvin.
The death of George Floyd is alarming," he said. "My prayers go out to Mr. Floyd's family. The action of the officer that I saw in that video is not in line with the training, and it's not in line with the philosophy of the Gainesville Police Department. If you don't have trust, you don't have a partnership. What I saw in that video erodes the trust of police, not only in that city but around this particular nation."
All of us can agree with Jones and law enforcement leaders throughout the US that said Chauvin acted in a matter not befitting a sworn officer and that George Floyd shouldn't be dead.
So there is enough common ground to build a foundation of dialogue, but what sort of spirit and attitude do we need for the harder topics?
In the Book of Luke (Chapter 10:25-37), Jesus has an interesting discussion with a person called "an expert of the law" about the most important commandments.
"Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"What is written in the Law?" Jesus replied. "How do you read it?"
He answered," 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this, and you will live."
The teacher followed-up that question with another.
"And who is my neighbor?"
In reply, Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
You may recognize the parable of the Good Samaritan, but what you may not realize is the contempt that first-century Israelites had for Samaria. It would be a hard lesson for them to accept the Samaritan as an example of a good neighbor, and even harder for them to love a Samaritan as a neighbor.
So whoever in this story is your perceived enemy, political rival, or on the opposite side of your beliefs, look upon them as your neighbor and love them. Try to understand them. Listen to the experiences and viewpoints that got them there.
Walk a mile in their shoes.
I understand the difficulties associated with suspending your own opinions temporarily to understand someone else's, but consider what's at stake, and what all of us have endured these past few weeks. It's worth a small dose of humility to gain the insight of someone you don't agree with to get closer to a solution.
After all, we're all in this together.