The Eric Garner Travesty: A Christian-Activist Perspective
An unarmed, African American father of five is killed by police using an illegal chokehold. The killing is ruled a homicide by the New York City Medical Examiner. It’s all caught on video. The police officer is not indicted by the grand jury. The man who filmed the whole incident is.
This type of injustice at the hands of police is nothing new for African Americans and Chican@s/Latin@s. This has been the experience of African Americans for 400 years, and us Latin@s for the past 150.
What’s changed? Social media has made it possible for our voices to be heard, and not ignored. We now have blogs and Ph.D.’s and hand held video cameras that are calling the police and the criminal justice systems to account. And, on the flipside, social media and cable news is exposing racist attitudes loud and clear for the world to see.
Over this long period of history we’ve been lynched, put to death on the basis of false evidence, arrested for crimes we didn’t commit, and our lands have been taken away by Texas Rangers and Supreme Courts. We’ve been evicted by eminent domain so that freeways and baseball stadiums could be built, and police have sat back while our communities have burned to rubble. So all this is nothing we’re not used to or can’t handle. But--our voices are finally being heard. This day had to come. It finally has.
Just like the day had to come when Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus, this day had to come.
Just like the day had to come when the Mendez family and many others said no to Mexican educational segregation, this day had to come.
Just like the day had to come when Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP challenged the segregation of Black and White children, this day had to come.
Just like thousands of Brown students had to walk out of classes in East L.A. to protest legalized educational inequality, this day had to come.
Just like thousands of undocumented university students had to rise up to proclaim their human dignity and demand their right to an equal education, so this day had to come.
You can only hold down marginalized people—of any nation or Color—for so long, until we say, “No more.” “Basta ya.”
Like Booker T. Washington said:
“Men may make laws to hinder and fetter the ballot, but men cannot make laws that will bind or retard the growth of manhood. We went into slavery a piece of property; we came out American citizens…We went into slavery with slave chains clanking about our wrists; we came out with the American ballot in our hands. Progress, progress is the law of nature; under God it shall be our eternal guiding star.”
In the words of Virgilio Elizondo:
“God chooses an oppressed people, not to bring them comfort in their oppression, but to enable them to confront, transcend, and transform whatever in the oppressor society diminishes and destroys the fundamental dignity of human nature.”
As followers of Jesus, this transformation of the legal system and race relations in America is exactly what is demanded of us in this historical moment. Jesus’ mission statement is ours:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Luke 4:18-19.
We must accomplish this transformation, however, in the power, love, and example of Jesus.
“[O]nly love can triumph over evil, and no human power can prevail against the power of unlimited love. Out of suffering and death, God will bring health and life. The more that the sinful world tries to crush and destroy the ways of unstinted love, the greater will be love’s triumph.” Virgilio Elizondo, Galilean Journey.
“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they’re mistreating you. Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
With much love,
P.S., for more about the brokenness of our legal system which hinders law enforcement accountability, see:
For more on the history of police chokeholds in NYC, see this article: