It is someone else’s problem, not ours.
That’s how many of us white people have felt if we haven’t seen racial injustice up close and personal. It hasn’t been completely real or relevant.
I live in Louisville, Kentucky, where in May, amid news of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, we learned of the killing by Louisville police of a Black woman, Breonna Taylor, a city EMT working with coronavirus patients.
With a questionable search warrant, police battered down Taylor’s door in the middle of the night, hoping to find drugs belonging to someone else.
Breonna’s boyfriend, Kenneth Taylor, fired his registered gun at the intruders, not knowing they were police, who responded by blindly shooting 22 rounds into the apartment.
Taylor was dead; Walker was arrested, and charges were dropped only after 911 calls were released to the public revealing he had no idea who was at the door.
No body cams were worn, so there is no video evidence of police actions. No drugs were found. What the hell?
Reader, has anything even remotely like this happened in your neighborhood?
Have police ever broken down your neighbor’s door in the middle of the night and shot the residents?
Don’t assume you’ve escaped this experience because your neighborhood is drug-free. Drugs are bought and sold in all neighborhoods.
Until Taylor’s killing, most white Louisvillians paid little attention to disproportionate and divisive police tactics reserved for Black communities.
If we were aware of the increased militarization of our local police, we assumed that reasonable supervisors assessed the need and considered the consequences.
We were wrong.
Details from Taylor’s killing disrupted our naive world. Police units plan midnight no-knock invasions in West Louisville to catch and capture presumed drug dealers.
I am keenly aware of the dangers of drugs. As a pastor, I fought for decades against the scourge of drug addiction.
But why a midnight invasion under the most dangerous possible circumstances, setting the stage for a likely violent outcome?
This kind of invasive and dangerous policing is simply not worth it to me.
A second recent incident of violence provoked by Louisville police is the killing of David McAtee in June.
In a midnight invasion of a popular corner in Louisville’s Black neighborhood, miles from the downtown protests over Breonna’s killing, Louisville police and a National Guard convoy rolled in, military fashion, to clear a convenience store parking lot.
Officers pursued retreating citizens across the street, shooting pepper bullets into the building where these traumatized souls fled.
When is the last time anything like this invasion happened in a white neighborhood of your city?
We say the names of Breonna Taylor and David McAtee.
Louisville has one more name we must say: Shelby Gazaway. Look up his story and be horrified. Don’t look away.
Some white people are awakening to the reality of racial injustice and earnestly asking, “What should we do?”
Their question echoes Luke 3, where John the Baptist’s preaching opens a few eyes. The crowd asks, “What shall we do?”
John’s prescription: Whoever has two shirts should share with him who has none, and whoever has food should do the same.
Equity. Redistribution. Repair. Honor to each person. Harmony.
Tax collectors also awoke and asked, “What should we do?”
Answer: Don’t collect any more than you are required to.
Fairness. Justice. Proportionality. Doing to others what we’d want done to us.
To awakened soldiers: Do not take money by force or false accusation. Be content with your wages.
Nonviolence. Humility. Gratitude. Contentment.
In the end, racial justice is reclaiming the sacred intention of a world interwoven by love.
It means making the changes needed to reset our city and our country – following Black leadership, redesigning equitable school systems built specifically to improve education for Black students, reforming courts and prison systems and reenvisioning police and police unions that work for the safety of all rather than for the protection of white property and lives.
This is the central message of Jesus, who opened blind eyes and invited all to see more clearly – that to love God is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Say their names: Breonna Taylor. David McAtee. Shelby Gazaway.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week on racial justice. The other articles in the series are:
Your Church Can’t Separate Faith, Anti-Racism Work | Aurelia Davila Pratt
As Monuments Come Tumbling Down | William Brackney
Some Still Revising South’s Reasons for Civil War | Terrell Carter
Questioning Racial Identity: Living on Wrong Terms | Starlette Thomas
Confederate Statues Laud Wrong View of History | Michael Cheuk
A minister in Louisville, Kentucky, for 21 years as pastor of Highland Baptist Church, Phelps is now Justice Coordinator for Earth and Spirit Center. He leads, along with Kevin Cosby, EmpowerWest, a black-white clergy coalition calling for recognition, repentance, and repair of injustices to black Louisvillians.