Editor’s note: Our friend Brandon Presley, Mississippi’s Northern District Public Service Commissioner, published this piece the day after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, MN. We think it requires no explanation. It speaks for itself, and does so very eloquently. We are reprinting it with his permission.
My mama always told me that, “When you come to know better, you must then do better.” I haven’t always heeded that advice.
Mr. George Floyd’s case is not the first that should have opened our eyes to the underlying issues of race. We’ve turned a blind eye to so many in the past. God knows that as a white, southern male, I have not been conscious of racial inequity and injustice all of my life – in fact, far from it.
Consciously and subconsciously, I bought the narrative of many, not all, in my environment regarding racial affairs. But, after my mama died, conviction set in. I’m ashamed as a person that it took me losing someone to understand other people’s hurt, and how my actions, emotions and attitudes hurt them. I never put myself in the other person’s shoes. Her words and her admonitions haunted me then, and still do. I, for once, truly understood tragedy and could finally begin to empathize with others in a way that was foreign to me. I didn’t understand loss or hurt until then.
To be clear, she died a peaceful death and in no way was targeted or disregarded for care because of her race. But, I had never known grief before.
I remember telling Mama about people who were pillars of my community, arguing with a friend that the three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, “Got what they deserved.” She asked me to put myself in the shoes of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney and think of the terror they felt that night on a lonely Mississippi road. She told me how, as a mother, she would have, first, been so scared that her son went thousands of miles away to a hostile environment. Then, she would have felt guilty for not stopping him, although it was a just cause. I didn’t truly let any of that really sink in as a kid, because that wasn’t the narrative of the world I knew outside the walls of my home. It wasn’t what I heard in many of the circles of adults I was around.
Some of these utter injustices were committed intentionally; many unintentionally, as a product of culture and thought. Some of us just thought that old opinions were the way you were “supposed” to act or think, because of where we grew up, and how. We were wrong, dead wrong.
We flatly denied the very teachings of Christ that we sat on the pew Sunday after Sunday and heard, and gave money in the offering plate to keep hearing. Somehow, we justified throwing those principles out the door or shoving them away when we made it to the coffee shop, ball field or to work. We saw church leaders say one thing on Sunday about brotherly love, and “hush up”opinions contrary to that when an African-American walked into the room the next day at a store or at school.
There is no way to ever deal with the issues of race without facing them. There’s no way to walk into church on Sunday and say that we believe all of the things that the Bible condemns as sin, but ignore what Jesus admonishes us to do more than anything – and that is love one another. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is about as strong a commandment as he ever gave us.
So, do we use the Bible only to condemn others, or to truly inspect ourselves? I have a feeling Jesus wants us to work on ourselves first. I can tell you that Brandon Presley has multiple logs in his eyes. We must confront ourselves and our beliefs, rather than gloss over the ugliness that seeps inside all of us, especially on the issues of race. We never, ever will overcome this issue and truly follow Christ until we do.
You can’t get around the words in red in the Bible. You can’t get around them because of political party; you can’t get around them because of a national debate. You can’t get around them because it’s inconvenient or maybe shines a bright light on our souls. Let’s all be the person who refuses to play along with any narrative that is contrary to love for our fellow humans. Let’s take a minute and put ourselves in the shoes of our neighbors of color. Someone said yesterday that, if Mr. Floyd had been an animal, the world have been outraged that he died with a knee on his neck. That’s a heck of an indictment of our society.
We, especially those of us in elected office, must ask ourselves what we can do to heal, what we can do to help, what we can do to provide meaningful, thoughtful reform to police training and standards. Before you even go there, this doesn’t mean that all policeman are of a kind with the murderer in Minneapolis. It does mean that we should spend extraordinary time during training at police academies, and during hiring processes, to ensure that the brave men and women we entrust to protect us are of the utmost character and knowledge. That doesn’t make police officers weaker, it makes them stronger.
An additional thorough training session, solely dedicated to civil rights, doesn’t mean that we are “watering down” law enforcement. It means that we are saying that we take our constitution seriously. We’re saying the rights of the people, as citizens, are to be respected, while also protected, because laws must be enforced. There isn’t one thing “anti-law enforcement” about more training, knowledge and accountability. We have an issue, and it’s one that cannot be solved without a change in how we do things. It’s just that simple.
The honorable men and women who wear the badge want this to be better. They do not want their profession tarnished over the actions of a few. Members of the law enforcement community who are dedicated to the highest ideals of character deserve our support in their yearning for change.
We should all take a minute and really inspect our thoughts and our opinions. We should do that from the perspective of our brothers and sisters of color. We are at a civil rights moment like nothing seen since the 1960s. We will either confront this moment as Christians, doing better because we know better, or, God help us, we will live with these issues for decades to come.
Am I perfect? Heck no. Do I possess all of the Christian ideals that I wish I did? Not even close. But, when I finally learned to release those old opinions and ideas, so ingrained from the outside world, I truly felt ten million pounds come off of my soul.
You will, too. Let’s commit ourselves to that.