Updated: Jul 1, 2020
By Jim Nedelka
Once upon a time in America – 10 days or so ago – the pandemic known as Covid19 was the elephant lurking over the shoulders of our lives.
Today, alongside that first lurking elephant is the raging bull elephant of racism.
Racism - America’s longest pandemic.
Just when we think we may have turned the corner and moved forward, racism morphs into something that the vaccines of civility and established laws can’t abate.
Suddenly, America’s “white cell count” explodes, indicating a horrible flare-up.
As a sad result, three African American humans become famous for the worst reason - being dead at the hands of “peace officers:”
o Ahmed Aubrey, 25, is shot by vigilantes while jogging through a neighborhood outside of Brunswick, Georgia. The killing is then apparently hushed-up by local law enforcement officials. Three men, including a man who recorded the slaying on his smartphone, have been charged in Aubrey’s death.
o In Louisville, Kentucky, the denominational headquarters of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Breona Taylor, 26, is shot eight times while asleep in her own bedroom during a police raid on the wrong house, searching for a suspect already in custody. An investigation is under way.
o George Floyd, 46, dies by asphyxia, choked to death while face down in a Minneapolis street, pinned under the knee of an arresting Minneapolis police officer who, ironically, had worked with Floyd as a bouncer at a local nightclub. Minneapolis fired the four police officers involved in Floyd’s arrest; the officer whose knee pinned down Floyd has been charged.
All the charged killers and, in the case of Aubrey, their accomplices, are White men.
I doubt the three dead African American humans knew each other; the belief that, somehow, all African Americans know each other is as mindless as the hatred that abrogated any sense of civility and justice that pushed these three humans to an early death.
While Aubrey, Taylor and Floyd are now connected in death, in a way, they were connected in life by fear – the ever-present feat in the back of the minds of African Americans: a day will come when they encounter one of Society’s mindless who, in their mindlessness, would find them guilty of the capital offense of GLWB – Guilty of Living While Black.
When did jogging through a building site, sleeping in one’s own bed next to one’s boyfriend and allegedly passing a phony $20 bill become capital offenses? Were these acts authorized along with the act of walking through the parking lot of the gated apartment complex where your dad lives? 17-year old Trayvon Martin never got the memo; his self-appointed executioner, George Zimmerman, got off. When was the penalty for selling “loosies” – loose cigarettes – bumped up from a misdemeanor? If so, no one told 43-year old Eric Garner; the NYPD Officer whose arm had him in a deadly choke hold was acquitted and then fired.
The names of Rodney King, Abner Louima and Emmett Till have also been raised these last 10 days.
* Till grew up in Chicago and potentially could have turned 79 this year. But he is forever 14 years old. Till was lynched in 1955 while visiting his grandparents in Money, Mississippi. His crime: being accused of offending a white woman in her family's grocery store.
* At the age of 26, King was brutally beaten during a traffic stop by the hands, feet and nightsticks of the LAPD.
* When he was 30, Louima was arrested following a bar fight. On the way to, and then inside, a NY Police precinct, he was viciously beaten and then crudely, physically violated.
While King is no longer with us, having drowned in 2014, Louima frequently speaks out against police brutality. He needed three operations to repair the physical damage to his body. While he may not carry any physical issues today, surely there are nightmares.
The events of the last 10 days of May 2020 now bleeding into June have generated plenty of new nightmares.
Can rampaging racismreallybe the end result of people sheltering-in-place, being cooped-up in one’s homes for weeks on end? Are the endless hours of watching TV or playing video games a license for white terrorists to arrogantly spit on the words of multiple health authorities pleading with them to wear a face mask simply to “promote the general welfare,” underscoring one of America’s founding principles?
No, because the same white terrorists who claim their freedoms are being taken away by a cloth mask are the same white terrorists readily donning a rubber, metal and plastic gas mask and then hauling out the camo and heavy artillery, such as fire bombs, grenades and AR-15s, to take down a virus no bigger than the tip of a strand of hair.
The rampaging racism is the result of a despotic leadership mindset that dismisses the seriousness of real events they can’t control for the resultant whiz-bang results of the false realty they believe they can control. Sitting in their bunker or well-defensed offices, they gin-up their diversion: all-out cha
os by agitators fueled by ego-stroking social media messages full of lies and paranoia, innuendoes and threats - both direct and veiled. Then they sit back, watch the virtual gasoline become very real Molotov cocktails, burning emotions and burning buildings, casually adding digital salt to these real open wounds by blaming some unrelated entities for the chaos.
Sadly, on June 1st, this same despotic thinking induced a made-for-TV sideshow in the White House Rose Garden. Soon after issuing a statement about being a “law and order president,” a massed presence of military, Secret Service and D.C. police - some on horseback - used tear gas and flash bang canisters to move peaceful protesters several yards away from the White House. Thus, the president was enabled to Stage Part 2 of his sideshow: a photo-op strut across the street to St John’s Episcopal Church ostensibly to pay respects to the church where a small fire had been extinguished the night before. He then posed with a Bible in front of the church’s sign board, then with an assemblage of politicians.
Usually when a dignitary on the level of the President of the United States of America visits a church, the pastor is generally on hand to extend a formal welcome, to also pose for pictures with the president and to potentially even take the Leader of the Free World on a tour.
Neither the congregation’s pastor, the Rev. John Fisher, nor bishop of Washington, The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, were anywhere to be seen.
Later, Bishop Edgar Budde appeared on CNN and blasted the president’s use of “a Bible, one of the sacred texts of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese without permission as a backdrop for a message antethical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our churches stand for.” She was distressed by the president’s sanctioning of “the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the church yard. I am outraged.” She strongly pointed out that the president “did not pray when he came to St. John’s nor…did he acknowledge the agony our country is in right now and, in particular, the people of color in our nation who wonder if anyone…in public power will ever acknowledge their sacred worth and who are rightfully demanding the end to 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country.” The bishop took a moment to inform CNN’s global audience that the episcopal diocese of Washington following the peaceful teachings of Jesus, “distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this president.”
More than 105,000 people, including both my parents, have died due to the pandemic known as Covid-19. Three more African American humans have fallen victim to the pandemic known as racism.
Does America have the will to fight both pandemics? My God, I believe so, but only if the necks containing the voices speaking out for peace and science and common sense aren’t first slammed to the pavement and then kneeled down upon.
Jim Nedelka is a Ruling Elder in the PC (USA) whose Stated Clerk is The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, who issued a solemn response in prayerful remembrance of racism’s three most recent victims.