Last Thursday Rev. Al Sharpton gave the eulogy for George Floyd. The full video from PBS is below – I encourage you to watch it. I haven’t been a Christian in a long time, but I still appreciate good preaching. This is good preaching.
Rev. Sharpton starts by reminding everyone that no one had a funeral on their schedule for that day – George Floyd shouldn’t be dead. He talks about how no one should use a Bible for a prop, and then suggests that a certain person who did should open the Bible and read it. He calls out people who don’t want peace but just quiet: “they want us to suffer in silence.”
But then at the 13:34 mark, Rev. Sharpton says “I’m more hopeful today than ever.” He points to marches where white people outnumber black people. When you see people protesting the murder of an American black man in Germany and in Britain “it’s a different time and a different season.” He talked about how in the past a white woman used a racial slur to tell him to go home, but this week a little white girl grabbed his sleeve and said “no justice no peace.”
Yesterday I was walking in one of the parks here in McKinney, Texas. As I was finishing up and heading toward the parking lot, I came across some messages written in sidewalk chalk.
I don’t know who wrote these messages or how long they’ve been there. Sidewalk chalk is usually associated with teen and tween girls, but it could have been anyone of any age, race, or gender. But the fact that someone – likely several someones – put this much time and effort into them is encouraging.
McKinney still had a farm town feel to it when I moved here in 2002 – today it’s mostly suburban. According to the US Census Bureau, the racial demographics are 61% white, 18% Hispanic, and 12% black – pretty close to the national average. I see all demographics when I’m in the park, but it seems a lot more than 61% white, though such estimates are notoriously inaccurate and I doubt I’m the exception to the rule. I can’t find election results by city, but in the 2016 Presidential election Collin County voted 56% for Trump, 39% for Hillary.
The bottom line is that this isn’t a place where you’d expect to find “No Justice No Peace #BLM” written on a public sidewalk. But here it is.
I think Rev. Sharpton is right. The time is changing.
Time alone solves nothing. Bull Connor has been dead for 47 years, but when the President of the United States threatens to send “most vicious dogs” against protesters, the spirit of Bull Connor is still very much alive.
In his Letter From Birmingham Jail (which any white person who quotes from “I Have A Dream” should be required to read in its entirety) Martin Luther King, Jr. said “human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”
We cannot simply wait for all the racists – and every other sort of bigot – to die off. Children have to be taught to hate, but there are plenty of people willing to teach hatred to them. There are plenty more who tell them – with their deeds if not with their words – that institutional racism doesn’t exist and everyone should “just be nice.”
Of course being nice is a good thing. But being nice won’t prevent police officers from stopping people of color more often than they stop white people, and from using force against them far, far more often. This is why Rev. Sharpton said “this is the time for dealing with accountability in the criminal justice system.”
These messages, written in chalk on a sidewalk in a park, likely by people too young to vote, mean little by themselves. But George W. Bush said “it is time for us to listen. It is time for America to examine our tragic failures.” Former President Bush has many sins to answer for, but that someone of his political persuasion would say this is a step in the right direction. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he was wrong “for not listening to NFL players earlier” when Colin Kaepernick and others knelt to protest police brutality.
Former President Barack Obama said “if, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.”
There is much work to be done: in policing and criminal justice, in business and finance, in sports and entertainment. There is more work to be done in the hearts of people throughout the country – not just what we do as individuals, but what we allow to be done in our names.
But Al Sharpton is right. It’s a different season. The time has changed. And I see reason to hope written in sidewalk chalk.