“Another life taken. Another public lynching. Another news story. Another act of recorded Black death . . . [This death] is not an anomaly, but a historical pattern of behavior that binds every American to an unexamined history of our nation.”
These lines are from the opening scenes of the “sermonic film” Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and Co-Pastor in Residence of the Children’s Defense Fund’s Samuel Dewitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry, released in May 2020, The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Requiem for Ahmaud Arbery. The 22-minute film covers the long legacy of racial injustice and violence in the United States and how far we still have to go to respond to America’s original sins of slavery, racism, and white supremacy. I want to share again Rev. Moss’s prophetic sermon which is also a requiem for George Floyd.
Rev. Moss’s film’s title is from the book by the late Rev. Dr. James Cone, an extraordinary crusader against racial terrorism and other forms of injustice. When Dr. Cone spoke at CDF’s Proctor Institute about The Cross and the Lynching Tree he said: “This book is my prayer, my invocation to God on behalf of Black people, in the hope that the nearly four centuries of Black suffering will be redemptive for our children and grandchildren, revealing to them the beauty in their tragic path, and also empowering them to continue to fight, to resist the violence of white supremacy.”
Witnessing George Floyd’s murder was another inflection point in the fight to stop the waves of pain and anger and fear still too common in our justice system. It became a cry not only for George Floyd but for Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, and generations of Black men, women, and children lynched and murdered without arrests, convictions, or any semblance of justice. And while Black families have often mourned our murders alone, George Floyd’s murder provoked a new protest against brutal police treatment of Black men and racial injustice. In the verdict of his police murderer, accountability was affirmed.
I pray the conviction of a law enforcement officer enjoined to protect rather than kill him is not an anomaly and will stop the historical and institutional patterns of too many law enforcement agencies whose mission should be to protect every citizen equally. The long-awaited real United States of America with liberty and justice for all that our enslaved ancestors, grandparents, and parents fought and died for is still struggling to be born. In my generation’s mentor Ella Baker’s immortal words: “until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, is as important as the killing of white mothers’ sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.”
Marian Wright Edelman is Founder and President Emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund