A white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, restricting the African American man’s breathing. Floyd repeatedly called out, “I can’t breathe.”

The incident captured on video eventually shows Floyd lying motionless near the rear of a police cruiser. Officers said they were called to the scene on a reported forgery in progress.

After Floyd exited his vehicle at the request of officers, they apprehended him, citing he had physically resisted officers. Minutes later, Floyd died.

The four officers involved in the incident were fired by the Minneapolis Police Department after the video surfaced.

According to the website MappingPoliceViolence.org, African Americans are three times more likely than whites to be killed by police.

Police killed 1,009 people in 2019, with 24% of them being black, while blacks account for around 13% of the overall U.S. population.

From 2013 through 2019, a vast majority of cases involving police killings did not end with officers being convicted or even charged. A total of 99 % of the cases ended with officers walking away while 100% of their victims remain dead.

With yet another unarmed black citizen dying while in the custody of the police, in the shadow of two white males in Georgia shooting a young black man while he was jogging, we are left with significant and life-altering questions.

How many more black citizens must die before society actually gets enraged?

How many more instances where people of color are profiled and harassed before we actually are moved to act?

How many more people of color must be locked up in prison before we recognize the blatant racism within our “justice” system?

How many more black men must we hear utter their last comment on earth, “I can’t breathe?”

When will “I can’t breathe” turn into “we can’t breathe”?

Sitting in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, on April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote one of the most important letters ever published during the civil rights era.

When criticism arose from clergy concerning King’s motives and the nonviolent protests he helped plan, King appealed to Scripture and called for action.

He wrote, “Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.”

When confronted with the lie that what happens in one place does not affect the entire world, King wrote, “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

He went further, underscoring our interdependence, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

King’s eloquence should not minimize the power of his charge.

The Baptist minister from Georgia proclaimed the truth about injustices that are accepted by a silent swath of society. When injustices are met with silence and inaction, then society endorses such behavior.

People of good faith must stop bowing their heads and hiding behind false piety. We must lift our heads to see the truth before us.

We must see the reality that our black and brown communities endure daily. We must hear the crying shouts of black citizens with knees on their necks begging, “I can’t breathe.”

The time is now for the church to demand justice.

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed,” King declared.

The church in all of her diversity must let the phrase “I can’t breathe” transform into “We can’t breathe.”

Until the black struggle finds its way into the hearts and minds of us all, the notions of false peace will persist. We do not need peace at this moment; we need justice.

To do anything else is to participate in what the prophet Jeremiah railed against when the religious leaders and court prophets of his day were declaring, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there was no true peace to be found (Jeremiah 6:14).

The church cannot permit “nothingism” to lead the way any longer. King warned of such a trap.

He went even further in his letter, speaking of his disappointment with the “laxity” of the church. King offered his disappointment not out of criticism, but out of love.

Let King’s own words be a charge to action. “In those days the (early) church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”

People of good faith, the time is now to become thermostats transforming injustice to justice.

The only way toward a peace that surpasses all understanding is through God’s justice, lifting the oppressed and breathless toward a day of equality, respect and life.

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