Bearing Witness to Racism in the US

In our Sunday Forums the last two weeks, we have been discerning how St. Augustine's can work for racial justice here in Washington, DC. We were inspired to have this difficult but important conversation due both to the legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall as well as the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, an African-American man who was killed in cold blood on February 23.

Then, in the past week, we have had two more stark reminders of the reality of white supremacy in this country.

Christian Cooper

This Monday, May 25, Christian Cooper, an African-American man, was bird-watching in Central Park, New York City. Amy Cooper, a white woman (with no relation to Mr. Cooper, despite their identical surname) came near with her dog off leash. Mr. Cooper asked her to leash her dog (by law, dogs must remain on leash in Central Park). When she refused, Mr. Cooper told her he would offer her dog treats until she complied with his request (which was both rational and, again, in accordance with the law). She responded by calling the police and falsely claiming that Mr. Cooper was "threatening" her.

 

Fortunately, Mr. Cooper filmed the encounter himself. It was released on Twitter and rapidly gained more than 40 million views. It clearly shows Ms. Cooper threatening Mr. Cooper with police involvement, even though he had done nothing illegal or even questionable.

 

Then, the very next day, Tuesday, May 26, George Floyd, an African-American man living in Minneapolis, was arrested by police. A police officer pinned Mr. Floyd to the ground by placing his knee on Mr. Floyd's neck. Both Mr. Floyd and bystanders informed the officer that Mr. Floyd could not breathe, but the officer did not adjust his weight. After a few minutes, Mr. Floyd passed out and then died.

This encounter was also filmed, and the unequivocal evidence of the police officer's lethal action sparked immediate outrage. The officer who killed Mr. Floyd, and three others involved in the arrest, have all been fired from the Minneapolis police force. Criminal proceedings against the officers are currently being considered.

These two events ended very differently, yet they teach us the same lesson. Both of these encounters show how readily white people victimize African-Americans with casual callousness. It is incredible—and incredibly disturbing—to see Ms. Cooper blatantly lie as she calls 911, while informing the dispatcher that the man she is confronting is African-American—clearly understanding that a white woman calling the police on a black man will likely lead to a muscular police response.

And it is beyond disturbing to hear Mr. Floyd and bystanders plead with the police officer to remove his knee from Mr. Floyd's neck and to see the officer completely ignore them.

These two events only draw into sharper relief how important the work of building racial justice is. Last week, during our Sunday Forum, we had a wide-ranging and productive conversation. Scott is currently involved in contacting a range of organizations to craft a concrete plan for how we will work for racial justice here in DC. We will likely be focusing on the issues of affordable housing and educational equity, working with groups like EmpowerDC; Southwest Action; Visions of Integration, Building Equity, and others.

In the meantime, if you have further ideas or questions about this racial justice work, or you would like to talk about your feelings in response to the news above, please be in touch with Scott: priest@staugustinesdc.org.

Our mission statement has never been more apt or essential:

Christ, He be come again when the Christ in you sees the Christ in us.


Until white people see the Christ in black folks, none of us will see the Kingdom of God.