On Memorial Day, George Floyd, a 46- year- old African American resident, was arrested by Minneapolis police for allegedly attempting to use a fake $20 bill at Cup Foods, a local store. He was handcuffed but he wasn’t placed in a squad car. I didn’t hear his Miranda Rights being read to him but I did hear Floyd pleading for his life and crying out for his mother. Like Eric Garner before him, he tells Officer Derek Chauvin, a European American, whose knee is on his neck, “I can’t breathe.” Hands in his pocket, Chauvin doesn’t budge and there is no nudge from the three officers who are with him. The crowd screams for Chauvin to let Floyd up but his colleagues do not. Instead, additional footage shows that several officers were also pinning him down with their bodies.
No split- second decision, the terrible ordeal last 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
Floyd dies in police custody. Video of his arrest and horrific death have gone viral and around the world. Chauvin has been arrested and charged with third- degree murder. Protests have erupted in cities around the country and chants of “Black lives matter” can be heard across the ocean.
So, what is the response from people of faith? Do we send our “thoughts and prayers” again? How long and how hard do we think about them? What do we say to God on their behalf? Where do we begin and what do we ask for exactly?
How do we pray for a man who is being suffocated to death by a person who is supposed to “serve and protect”?
Perhaps, the Reverend Howard Thurman, mystic and contemplative activist, has the answer for us. He writes in Meditations of the Heart, “It is true in some sense a man’s (sic) whole life may be regarded as his prayer.” My life can serve as an embodied position of one who is in conversation with the Divine, who is trading messages between Creator and creature, who is passing along word of God’s plan for us, who is putting these conversations into practice. I want my life to be a petition a plea—but not just for me.
This past week, I have been praying with my feet. That’s what Abraham Joshua Heschel said when protesting, “When I march in Selma, my feet ar praying.” Moving from street to street, with police officers on every side, I find my stride and raise my fist: “George Floyd! George Floyd! George Floyd!” He can use my lungs. As long as I can breathe, I will say his name.
He consumes my thoughts and right now, my body, my life is a prayer just for him. I hope America gets the message.
*This reflection was originally written for Smyth & Helwys Publishing Company and featured on its blog.