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April 21, 2021
The guilty verdicts in the Derek Chauvin trial don't mean the end of our work for justice.
Photo credit: Scott Olson | Getty Images
Derek Chauvin Found Guilty Of George Floyd's Murder – via NPR
How It Feels To Breathe a Brief Sigh of Relief After Inhaling America's Bile, According to Black Twitter – via The Root
Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. –Genesis 2:7
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. –Ezekiel 37:4-5
“You chastise mortals
    in punishment for sin,
consuming like a moth what is dear to them;
    surely everyone is a mere breath.  Selah
 “Hear my prayer, O Lord,
    and give ear to my cry;
    do not hold your peace at my tears.
For I am your passing guest,
    an alien, like all my forebears.
Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again,
    before I depart and am no more.” –Psalm 39:11-13
God gave us the breath of life in creation, a breath that is of God placed in our lungs. That life that is of God is so sacred we call it “Spirit.” Many religions take extra care in handling blood, which also contains that same sacred gift of life. That God-given breath of life was taken from George Floyd in 9 minutes and 29 seconds by Derek Chauvin, as it had been taken from Eric Garner in a similar manner. As it had been taken in hangings and shootings and bombings of so many other Black and Brown people in the United States before, and throughout our history.
Slavery enacted the idea that white people could own that very breath of life of Black people. And we white people have not stopped trying to own and dictate and steal that breath even after the end of legal slavery in the United States. Every day there is another indignity, another injustice, another death. It is no wonder that Black people in the United States feel as if they have been holding their breath for over 400 years.
A nation has let out a collectively held breath as the verdicts in the three counts against Derek Chauvin were read in a Minneapolis courtroom Tuesday afternoon. Tonja Renée Stidhum reflects on what that collective release of held breath looks like on Black Twitter in her piece for The Root. But this is not a happy ending.
George Floyd, Eric Garner, and so many others are still dead. The systemic and systematic racism that are foundational to policing, to local, state, and national government, to churches and schools and everyday life in this country have not been crushed by one man being held accountable for his crimes. The breath of life has been taken from so many, and no verdict will bring them back. Even as the verdicts were being delivered, police in Columbus, Ohio, shot and killed a Black teenage girl. We will hold our breath again and again until we are able to uproot the white supremacy from the core of this nation and destroy it.
I have said my piece here, but right now I’m trying to do more listening than talking. If a Black or Brown friend asks me to tag into a conversation, join a march, or make phone calls, I will follow their lead. I will keep talking to other white people about the ways we have actively and passively participated in causing and supporting these harms against our neighbors. I will keep challenging the complacency of myself and others. But until we can all breathe free, my breath will be bated.
Breathe. Take a few moments to deliberately breathe in, hold that breath, and then release it slowly. It may be difficult to breathe due to illness, anxiety, or ability. Acknowledge those frustrations doing something we all have to do to stay alive. Take a few more moments, shutting off the lights, closing your eyes, simply sitting still, and breathe and listen. Unfortunately, there is always another crisis around the corner. We can’t stop them from coming, but we can take a moment to breathe and get ready to face them.
Giver of Life – you shared your breath with us, blowing your Spirit into our lungs and throughout our existence. You can bring life even to dry bones. We already have all we need to do what we need to do. Give us the courage and guidance to do it – to pull down systems of injustice, let those rotting corpses melt into the earth, and become fertilizer for new life. Help us plant seeds to grow a garden where all are welcome to live and breathe free. Amen.
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