Southern Baptist leaders are lamenting the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer used a knee to pin his neck to the pavement for several minutes.
“I am disturbed, brokenhearted, and deeply grieved when I see and read that another black man’s sacred life has been unjustly snuffed out,” said Marshal Ausberry, SBC first vice president and president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention. “The life of George Floyd was ended by those charged to protect and serve. They became judge, jury and executioner.”
In a video taken by a bystander Monday (May 25), an officer later identified as Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck as Floyd lay face down on the pavement. “I cannot breathe,” Floyd is heard saying several times as the pressure continues. After seven minutes in the hold, Floyd is limp and unresponsive. He is placed on a stretcher and put into an ambulance.
Ronnie Floyd, president of the SBC Executive Committee, tweeted that he was “astounded by what happened in Minneapolis relating to the death of George Floyd. … This is ungodly and inhumane.”
The video begins with Floyd pinned by the officer. The Minneapolis Police Department said in a statement released Monday that officers were responding to a report of forgery and that Floyd “physically resisted officers.”
Four police officers involved in the arrest were fired after the incident. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called Wednesday (May 27) for Chauvin’s arrest. According to USA TODAY, Frey said: “If you had done it, or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now.”
Floyd’s family members have called for the arrests of the officers involved. Benjamin Crump, the family’s attorney, told CBS News: “They did not have to use this excessive lethal force that killed George Floyd. They did not have to do it, and that’s why simply [firing] them is not enough, because black lives matter.”
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating. Minneapolis Police announced Tuesday the FBI would join the investigation, as well.
As Floyd’s death has sparked national outrage, it has inflamed tensions locally. Thousands of protestors marched Tuesday (May 26) from the scene of the incident to a Minneapolis police precinct station. Some chanted “I can’t breathe.”
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the march was peaceful but tension grew when the protestors arrived at the precinct station, where windows and a police car were damaged. Police wearing riot gear fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Protestors threw rocks and water bottles.
Chris Reinertson, director of missions for the Twin Cities Baptist Association in Bloomington, Minn., said local pastors are leading their congregations in prayer and discussing ways to respond. Reinertson pastors Southside Baptist Church.
“It’s so fresh,” Reinertson said, “and of course, we want to help people connect with Christ, and that deals with all of the situation at hand. … Don’t ever think I’m saying this is a fresh racial issue. I’m saying this African American man, George Floyd, being arrested and then the white police officer putting his knee right on his neck — that specific incident. I’m not talking, ‘Oh, this is the first incidence of racism.'”
Ausberry, who is pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax, Va., pointed out the sanctity of human life.
“Ultimately, the lack of respect for the dignity and sacredness of all human life is sin,” he said. “If we hold that all human life is sacred, then why is it that black and brown lives are ended way before their time? The facts speak for themselves. There is a striking racial problem in America.”
SBC President J.D. Greear noted several black Americans who have died tragically in 2020, including Ahmaud Arbery, who was pursued and killed by two armed civilians as he jogged on a neighborhood street, and Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her own bed by police who had entered her home in the middle of the night while searching for someone else.
“#ahmaudarbery, #breonnataylor, #georgefloyd – Hashtags that represent people made in God’s image — souls tragically lost,” Greear tweeted. “These tragedies move us to lament ongoing racial tension and the severe and lasting damage racism has caused in our country.”
In a subsequent tweet, Greear added:
“If we want to join in the gospel movement against racism and toward equality, our struggle must continue well after these hashtags fade. Lord, help us search our own hearts and commit to bear one another’s burden.”
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.