As I thought of the tragic and unnecessary death of George Floyd, it took my mind elsewhere–the apparent death of Christian civility in cyberspace.
My Love for Cops, Those Fallible Human Beings
It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for law enforcement professionals. They were and are “family” to me. Do I tend to give officers the benefit of the doubt? Yes, I do. Am I an apologist for cops? Yes, I am.
The Law Enforcement profession draws from the same fallible human race as every other profession. I should know. I was a cop. I’m part of that segment of the fallible human race who wears a gun and a badge.
There are good cops and there are bad cops. During my law enforcement career, I worked with some of the finest people I’ve ever met. I also worked with people who had no business donning the uniform. A few of those in the latter group would find themselves spending extended stays in the “Gray Bar Hotel”–not as staff, but as residents.
That cops come from fallible humanity in no way whatsoever excuses criminal or any other sinful behavior by officers.
I appreciate what theologian and podcaster Darrel B. Harrison had to say:
“Those who have taken an oath to ‘protect and serve’ undergo all manner of training and examination in order to earn the privilege of reciting those words. But there is no examination for the human heart. Wearing a badge does not portend purity of motives or intent (see Ecclesiastes 7:20). In the same way that a marriage vow does not in and of itself guard against adultery, a badge is no harbinger against nefarious conduct on the part of the one wearing it. The truth is, an oath is only as good as the intent on the part of the person reciting those words to keep it. Apart from a heart that is committed to abiding by the words of an oath, an oath itself means nothing, regardless if you’re talking about husbands, wives, or police officers (see Mark 7:17-23).”
That being understood, here’s what we think we know about the death of George Floyd.
What We Think We Know
It’s always been my personal policy not to comment on video clips of incidents involving law enforcement because such clips rarely, if ever, tell the whole story. However, in the case of the death of George Floyd, I will make an exception. While we have yet to see the full video of the officer’s interaction with the suspect, I do not believe more data is necessary to assess what is seen in the video clip.
Here’s what we think we know thus far. I feel obligated to qualify the last sentence with the word “think” because we simply do not have all of the details.
The CBS affiliate in Minneapolis reported the following:
“According to Minneapolis police, the encounter between Floyd and officers happened just after 8 p.m. Monday, when police were called to the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South on a report of a man attempting to use forged documents at Cup Foods. WCCO asked a store manager about the police call, but they declined to comment.
“Officers found Floyd in a car at the scene. He appeared intoxicated, police say. Officers ordered him to get out of the car.
“‘After he got out, he physically resisted officers,’ police spokesman John Elder told reporters early Tuesday. ‘Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and officers noticed that the man was going into medical distress.’
“An ambulance brought Floyd to Hennepin Healthcare, where he later died, police say.”
A bystander’s phone video makes it clear there is more to the story. However, we don’t have all of the information regarding what took place between Floyd and the officers before the video. We also don’t know what happened after the video stops. As of the writing of this article, Floyd’s official cause of death is either unknown or has not yet been reported.
There is an allegation that George Floyd was possibly under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. A toxicology report of Floyd’s blood has not yet been made public. If Floyd was under the influence of, say, a central nervous system stimulant (i.e. cocaine, methamphetamine, etc.) or PCP, this could have increased the strength and pain tolerance of an already-large man. This is, of course, speculative at this point.
We also do not know if George Floyd suffered from any underlying medical conditions, diagnosed or undiagnosed, that could have contributed to his death.
Update: The officer in question has been arrested on charges of murder and manslaughter.
Update: A preliminary autopsy report indicates that George Floyd suffered from “coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease.” The preliminary autopsy report also indicates that there were “no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxiation or strangulation.” According to the coroner, “The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.”
The Use of Force
Officers, by and large, are trained to use that level of force, which is necessary to overcome a person’s resistance. According to the National Institute of Justice, “The International Association of Chiefs of Police has described use of force as the ‘amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject.'”
No two situations are alike. Factors such as size and strength of each combatant, the number of combatants, the presence or absence of weapons, the environment where the fight is taking place, the officer’s state of mind (including his or her perception of danger), potential threat(s) to the public, and other factors must be considered in determining if each use of force is justifiable, both according to department policy and according to the law. There are no cookie cutters designed to determine if a particular use of force is justifiable. And the eyes of involved or uninvolved third parties, in front of or behind cameras, are not enough to determine whether or not a particular use of force is justifiable.
It is also worth noting that just because a suspect is handcuffed and on the ground doesn’t automatically render a suspect unable to cause harm to arresting officers or to other people. Even in this compromised position, a suspect CAN (and they often do) still resist officers’ efforts to secure him (or her) in a patrol car, an ambulance, or otherwise transport him from one location to the next. Handcuffed prisoners have injured and killed officers. In other words, the fight might not be over.
My Observations about the Death of George Floyd
Based on my years of training and experience in law enforcement (even though I’ve been retired for 12 years), coupled with what I saw in the video, with the understanding that the information I have is limited, this is my unsolicited opinion about the death of George Floyd.
I see no justification for placing a knee on the neck of a handcuffed man who is face down on the street, for such an extended period of time that the suspect is rendered unconscious. The suspect’s plea for help because he couldn’t breathe (whether or not he was telling the truth–suspects do tell lies in an attempt to gain a tactical advantage over officers), should have resulted in the officer taking another position of advantage over the suspect, to ensure his use of force was not excessive and he was not doing unnecessary harm to the suspect. For instance, when Floyd began to complain of an inability to breathe the officer could have transferred his body weight (his knee or other parts of his body) from Floyd’s neck to his shoulders or upper back.
Another camera angle shows two other officers atop George Floyd’s lower back and legs. It is unknown, based on the video(s) when the second and third officers took those positions. That a second and third officer were also applying body weight to Floyd’s body made it safer (safer than if he was alone) for the first officer to move from Floyd’s neck to another part of his upper body to maintain control of him. And again, he was handcuffed, which limited (not eliminated) his ability to raise his body off the ground.
There were multiple officers present. To date: four officers have been fired as a result of this tragic incident. For an officer to remain kneeling on the man’s neck, with another two officers atop the suspect’s body, after he was apparently unconscious (an unconscious person cannot exert resistance), was excessive.
George Floyd appears to lose consciousness at about the 4:00 mark. Yet the officer keeps his knee on the suspect’s neck for what appears to be another 3:00. In my professional opinion, the force used by the officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck during the first four minutes of the video was questionable, and the force used by the same officer during the second four-plus minutes of the video was unnecessary, excessive, cruel and unusual, and likely criminal.
George Floyd should not have died in the street that day. His death was tragic and unnecessary. A court will likely decide if his death was a case of manslaughter or murder.
A Brief Word about Rioting
On day two of writing this article, people have rioted in the streets.
Having spent three days in South Central Los Angeles as a deputy sheriff, during the Rodney King riots of 1992, I can say this.
Rioting has NOTHING to do with seeking justice. It is criminal opportunism at its most base level.
During the riots of 1992, which were allegedly motivated by racial tension, police brutality, and judicial injustice, the only communities destroyed were black and other “minority” communities. The looters and rioters were predominantly black. So, people who were allegedly incensed by racial injustice and inequality were robbing, pillaging, and murdering people in their own neighborhoods. Those who were allegedly being oppressed did not burn down the communities of their oppressors. And they were encouraged, even incited, by the leaders of their own communities to take to their own streets and destroy their own communities.
No, rioting isn’t about righting wrongs. It’s about the criminally-minded seizing an opportunity to act according to their nature, with a hypocritical, self-righteous flare.
Social Media and the Death of Christian Civility
(Editorial Note: From here on out you will see that the predominant pronouns in the remainder of the article will be “we” and “us.” Lest anyone charge that I am the Pharisee pointing to the tax collector, I’m talking about me, too. While it ought not need to be said, the use of “we” and “us” does not refer to all Christians, all the time, in every circumstance. They are used to speak in general terms. It is for the reader to decide if the following commentary, in part or in whole, applies to him or her, or not.)
Needless to say, social media (platforms such as Facebook and Twitter) are buzzing with news and opinions about the death of George Floyd. Christians are expressing very firm and understandably passionate opinions about the death of George Floyd. We are in the midst of what I believe history will show is an unnecessary pandemic lockdown. The overreach of government and its law enforcement surrogates only heightens the level of angst, concern, and disgust over the death of George Floyd. To be clear: the hurt and anger over this man’s death would still be present, whether or not there was a pandemic lockdown (we might as well call it Martial Law without the tanks).
However, as we are bombarded with videos and images of George Floyd’s last ten minutes of life (the bombardment coming, in part, by our own fingertips and keyboards), there is something we are failing to see. Watch the video again. Look at the still images again. Do you see it? No?
Watch it again. This time, focus your attention on the officer. We’ll concentrate on George Floyd again, soon. Look at his face. Look at his left knee. Yes, look at that knee. Do you see it, now? No?
You still don’t see it, do you? Sometimes, if we put our eyes too close to something, we can’t clearly see what’s directly in front of us. Sometimes we intentionally blur our own vision because we don’t want to clearly see, and thus be forced to acknowledge, even own what’s directly in front of us.
Try one more time. Watch it again. Still don’t see it?
Keep looking. In the meantime, before I share with you what grieves me the most about what I see, here’s what else I see.
What Else I See in the Video
What I see when I look at the officer’s face (he only glances upward a few times) is depraved indifference toward the human being whose life he’s snuffing out beneath his knee.
What I see as I stare at that officer’s left knee is an exercise of a level of authority the officer does not have–the authority to play judge, jury, and executioner in what certainly, at least by the 4:00-minute mark, is no longer a “fear for my safety,” let alone a “fear for my life” situation. I see the officer move from Romans 13:1-5 to 1 John 3:15.
What I see at about the 8:00-minute mark, after an EMT looks for a pulse on Floyd, with the officer’s knee remaining on Floyd’s neck, and after a stretcher is brought alongside Floyd’s body, is the officer, with hands covered by black gloves, release the knee pressure from Floyd’s body, only to grab him by the arm and fling him toward the stretcher like a dirty rag doll. I watched Floyd’s head flop around, a visual demonstration of his unconsciousness. I watched as the EMT seemingly sheepishly reaches for Floyd’s head in what was probably a useless attempt to stabilize the already injured neck of a dead man.
I don’t know Floyd’s exact time of death, but I probably watched a man die on the video. I’ve watched another man die, but it was while I was trying to save his life. A bullet to his heart insured my efforts would fail.
In Floyd’s case, I watched a man needlessly die at the hands of an officer. And then I watched that officer handle his body the same way I handled the trash I took out to the curb this morning.
I’m sickened; angry; helpless in that there is nothing I can do to change what happened; embarrassed as a man who formerly donned the uniform of a law enforcement professional; empathetic toward my family behind the badge–men and women I love who would never dream of treating another human being the way this officer treated George Floyd–men and women who will now shoulder the burden of keeping peace in communities where people genuinely want peace, and in communities where some of the people want nothing to do with peace and will use this tragedy to further their own criminal, hate-my-neighbor agendas.
I’m grieved for those who stood feet away and watched Floyd die. I’m heartbroken for Floyd’s friends and family, regardless of what, if any, criminal activity in which Floyd allegedly was involved that led to his contact with police that day.
I’m frustrated knowing that social justice warriors who propagate a different gospel, some of whom are race-baiters of the variety but not the notoriety of the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world, will use the death of George Floyd to further unholy agendas. In the eyes of some, including Christians, they will be given an ounce of credibility at the expense of 200+ pounds of George Floyd’s flesh.
But, Do You See It?
You might see many of the things I just described. But I wonder if you yet see what grieves me most.
I see us. I see Christians. I see me.
I see the way we treat each other on social media (in all its forms).
The tragic, horrific, unnecessary, senseless, criminal death of George Floyd has not brought about the death of civility among Christians on social media. His death serves as a very uncomfortable and graphic metaphor for what we, as Christians, have been doing to each other since the advent of social media. George Floyd’s death serves as a metaphor for what I may have done to one of you or some of you who are reading this today. If this is the case, please forgive me.
We murder each other.
Maybe I’ve murdered you.
Please forgive me.
What God’s Word Says About Murder
Here’s what God’s Word says, in part, about murder.
“You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17).
“The murderer rises before it is light, that he may kill the poor and needy, and in the night he is like a thief” (Job 24:14).
“He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless” (Psalm 10:8).
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:21-26).
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:28-32).
“For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Romans 13:9).
“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2).
“You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:5-9).
“But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” (1 Peter 4:15).
“We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12).
“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).
“Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:15).
Will we ever read these verses and see ourselves and what we’re doing to each other, or will we simply continue to devour and destroy one another in the Coliseum called “social media?” And when it’s not our turn to fight, will we continue to sit in the stands like Caesar silently giving a thumbs-up or a thumbs down for who among our brethren should live or die.
The Weapons of Our Murderous Social Media Warfare
Yes, we murder each other. We are heavily armed and we won’t hesitate to pull out various weapons and use them with the skill and thoughtfulness of someone who shouts, “fire, aim, ready.” What are some of our favorite weapons to use against our Christian brethren?
Here’s an incomplete list (the knees we wantonly drive into the necks of our Christian brethren):
Impatience; making assumptions; lying–either outright or by of way innuendo or exaggeration; believing and propagating one-sided reports; self-righteousness; false humility; sinful anger dressed up as righteous indignation; disrespect; misrepresentation; virtue-signaling; giving hearty approval to attacks against Christian brethren; indifference.
Social media is a place where many of us boast with humble-brags about being Christians–and not just any kind of Christians, but Christians within preferred camps or tribes: theological, methodological, philosophical, sociological. And so we compete. Do you think the rivalry between the Dodgers and the Giants is intense? That’s Little League compared to the incessant rivalry among online Christians–people who, for the most part, don’t actually know each other and will likely never meet in person. And we virtue-signal with our memes and/or selfies in which we declare how other Christians should live, move, and have their being, behave and think. You know; “just like me.” We might even preface our declarations with “I humbly submit,” thinking we’re actually hiding our feelings of self-importance and superiority from others.
And so we delude ourselves.
“He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand” (Isaiah 44:20)?
Our George Floyds
And then there are our George Floyds–our brothers and sisters in Christ who, according to the Scriptures and our occasional public tweet and post professions we hope many people will like, we allegedly love–who find themselves on the receiving end of our neck-compressing, bent knees.
Instead of practicing a love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), real or perceived, we diligently look for the uncrossed T or the undotted I. We look for the ill-advised or misspoken word. We look for gossip about our enemies and we look for slander against our friends. We scan our social media feeds, in part hoping to be encouraged, but also hoping to find someone with whom we can disagree.
Once we find a suspect, once we find someone we perceive to be in error, once we find someone with whom we disagree, our default position is not to contact the person privately, just in case the misunderstanding or error might be ours. Rather, we might begin with a passive-aggressive post. “There are some people who…” Of course, others know who and/or what we’re talking about because they’ve seen the other post to which we are referring, but not referring. Our “suspect” knows it, too. So, he or she fires off a passive-aggressive post to answer ours. We talk past each other, insisting all-the-while we’re not talking about each other.
Of course, the two of us don’t take the time to directly speak to each other. Why do that when we have the “unfriend” and “block” features at our fingertips? We’ve found our George Floyd-of-the-day. We have him where we want him. And we’ll spend the rest of the day applying pressure to his neck. That he will stop resisting won’t matter. He’s challenged an authority we don’t have, but that we love to exercise, and he must pay the price–the price we’ve determined is appropriate.
The rest of us seated in the social media coliseum choose sides. Camps are formed. The enemy of my enemy becomes my friend. And so it goes.
So it tragically and sinfully goes.
Woe to Us!
Millions of us have seen the death of George Floyd. We are indignant. We are angry. We demand justice. We cry “tyranny”–a word that is quickly losing its force and meaning as some of us seemingly apply it too broadly, too loosely. Where is Inigo Montoya when we need him? And then we turn around and treat each other the way the officer treated Floyd, without batting an eye.
Before the Lord saved me, there were times while working the county jail I would mistreat an inmate on Saturday night and then on Sunday morning don my choir robe and sing. Since coming to faith in Christ, there have been times when I’ve held my knee on the neck of a brother or sister in Christ online and then went to church to sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus!”–praising God that Jesus is a friend to sinners like me while, even at that moment, I was failing to be a friend to sinners like me.
Can you imagine the reaction (imagine your own) if, while the officer was applying deadly force to George Floyd’s neck, he repeatedly, even softly said, “I’m doing this because I love you?” Yet we murder one another online, often under the auspices of love. If we can’t bring ourselves to say we are doing it with love for the brother we’re murdering, we’ll say we are doing it with love for Christ and/or His Church.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20)!
Woe to us, brethren! Woe to us!
Will We Ever Really Love One Another?
I wonder if we will ever really love one another online. Is it even possible? To be sure, we might see glimpses of it every day. But will we, can we love one another to the point we stop murdering each other. I guess we can hope. I guess in my life that has to start with me.
George Floyd should not have died the other day at the hands of a police officer.
George Floyd begged for mercy and received none. Actually, he didn’t beg for mercy because mercy is, by definition, not receiving what one deserves. George Floyd didn’t deserve to be killed on a dirty Minneapolis street, next to the front tire of a patrol car.
But George Floyd did beg. The bystanders begged. They all begged for the officer to do what was right. George and the bystanders begged for George’s life. The officer, seemingly with depraved indifference, refused. And I wept.
In our online interactions with Christian brethren, will we continue to be like the officer? Or will we love one another as Jesus commands? With depraved indifference toward our own Christian brethren, will we continue to look for opportunities to put our knees on one another’s necks?
During the video of George Floyd’s death, you will hear a bystander accuse the officer of enjoying what he was doing to Floyd. We will likely never know if that’s true. But friends, if we continue to murder one another online, knowing it’s wrong, I think we have to ask ourselves if we do it because we enjoy it.
And what does that say about our hearts?
I need to repent.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).
“Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9).
“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing” (2 Thessalonians 1:3).
“Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1).
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17).
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).
“Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling” (1 John 2:10).
“By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).
“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14).
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21).