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After the Protests: Seeking Justice in Quarantine

Responding to calls for social justice and loving our neighbor

Prologue

Cover photo: A small group of people gather around a makeshift memorial for Kelly Thomas, who was killed in a confrontation with Fullerton police officers, in January 2014, days after a jury found the officers not guilty.

In our lives, we may experience times of injustice, mourning, and loss. It’s almost unavoidable. But these moments can serve to help us sympathize with others experiencing hardship, giving us an opportunity to help others in need.

In this article, I share how our cries against injustice can help change our society in our gradual path towards equality.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

-Jesus, in the Bible from Matthew 5:3-12 NIV

By Tim Worden. Photos by Tim Worden. Copyright 2020.

Introduction: Justice in Quarantine

Black Lives Matter protest in Fullerton, CA, in June 2020

As I wrote back in May, with the quarantine I have been looking at how I and others can use new technology, services and ways of operating to impact our community.

I have watched as nonprofits, medical professionals and volunteers locally here in Orange County, as well as around the world, have been responding to the challenges of this pandemic by serving others and giving to those in need.

I concluded my article with the statement:

Jesus called his disciples to serve others, a message that has remained relevant even today during this crisis, two millennia later. Beyond a mission just for librarians, or teachers, or health care workers, we all have the opportunity to help a neighbor or friend in this time.

I published the article May 24. The next day, May 25, was Memorial Day. George Floyd, who had recently lost his job at as a bouncer due to Coronavirus furloughs, was killed in a confrontation with police, with one police officer pinning down Floyd for nearly 8 minutes as Floyd cried out for help.

As cellphone video of the incident spread, the fallout of Floyd’s death was immediate, with ordinary people taking part in protests spreading from Minneapolis outward into thousands of American cities. On Saturday, June 6, at the height of the protests, nearly 500,000 people took part in protests across more than 500 U.S. cities.

Just like the Coronavirus pandemic, this global movement centered on justice for George Floyd and others like him – victims of police brutality and racial injustice – has revealed our society’s need for love, support, healing and compassion.

So, what can I – as a library worker, a techie, a progressive, and a Christian – do to help others during this time? How can we work past divisions and global crises to strive toward a more just, unified world? 

The answer, according to Jesus’ teachings in the Bible, is simple: Love others. Treat others how you would like to be treated. And stand with the oppressed, the needy, and the grieving.

About the Protests

At the three peaceful protests I attended this summer, I have witnessed first-hand the emotions that people in my community are experiencing. From grief, bitterness and anger to hope, zeal and solidarity.

I watched as one protester, during a march, stepped to the side to sit on a bench and pray.

I saw as a group of African-American college students broke out into a dance party and invited others to join in, while at a peaceful protest that they organized on the steps of City Hall.

And I kneeled, along with about 500 others, in a moment of silence that lasted about 8 minutes.

I base this article on what I have seen, felt and perceived, knowing that each of us has our own experiences and beliefs. I hope that any reader may, for a moment, allow me to share my perspective, just as I welcome others to share with me.

The protests, as we may know, have been organized under the Black Lives Matter movement, focusing on racial injustice and police brutality that has crept up in the public consciousness after the deaths of African-Americans including Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor. While some protests have been organized by the Black Lives Matter organization and local chapters, most around the world were spurred by ordinary people who chose to honor Floyd by informally and independently taking up the #BlackLivesMatter mantle with no ties to the organization.

These protests have not all been peaceful, with cases of looting, property damage and skirmishes between protesters, police and bystanders – including, sadly, a few deaths, injuries and torched businesses. However, while examining the data on this “George Floyd protests” Wikipedia page to create an infographic cataloging the protests, I found a majority of the thousands of protests in the U.S. remained peaceful.

In several cases, police officers and police chiefs marched hands-in-hands with protesters in solidarity.

Seeking Justice

Sign a protester made at a protest in Fullerton, CA, in June 2020

My career journey as a journalist and library worker has given me an interest in social justice awareness. And as a Christian, I am guided by my principles of wanting to follow Jesus’ example of love and compassion to all peoples, especially the vulnerable, the marginalized and the voiceless.

So when I first viewed the witness video of George Floyd’s murder, I was, like so many others, grieved.

In the subsequent days, as phrases like #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd and #BlackLivesMatter trended, I also began seeing the phrase “Seek Justice.” The phrase comes from the Bible in Isaiah, where God gives a warning against his people, saying they have gone against him through their actions. Then God asks of his people:

“Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.”

Isaiah 1:17

To learn more about this Christian response to seeking justice and mercy, I re-read pastor Timothy Keller’s book on this subject “Generous Justice.” In the book, Keller lays out a Biblical perspective on social justice, a political science ideology that aims to provide fair and equitable rights to all people. The social justice movement, he points out, historically had its roots in Christian and Catholic thinkers and clergy.

This idea of social justice, Keller says, is conceptualized by a pair of Hebrew words often translated into English as “justice” and “righteousness.” Mishpat (“justice”) refers to giving people their fair rights or due share, while tzadeqah (“righteousness”) refers to acting justly and living in a manner of right relationships to others.

When the words combine together, mishpat tzadeqah, they can be translated as “social justice,” he says, summarizing social justice as:

“We do justice when we give all human beings their due as creations of God. Doing justice includes not only the righting of wrongs, but generosity and social concern, especially toward the poor and vulnerable. This kind of life reflects the character of God. It consists of a broad range of activities, from simple fair and honest dealings with people in daily life, to regular, radically generous giving of your time and resources, to activism that seeks to end particular forms of injustice, violence, and oppression.”

Timothy Keller, “Generous Justice”

Seeking justice, then, includes not only ensuring a fair trial is done in a criminal proceeding, but of comforting those affected – providing monetary and emotional care to a victim’s family, for example – and providing a platform for grieving community members to share their concerns so that people in authority can listen and make reforms.

In other words, the heart of this social justice action is that we treat others rightly – especially those who are in need of help or whose rights have been violated, recognizing that we are all humans made in God’s image.

It is from this perspective of Biblical justice that guides my view of civil rights issues including the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubery, Breonna Taylor and others.

Justice in the Streets

A woman takes a picture of protesters marching in downtown Fullerton in June 2020.

So, who are the protesters? According to one estimate, perhaps as many as 25 million people in the U.S. participated in a protest related to George Floyd’s death by mid-June, and the number has surely risen since then.

For many, it was their first protest experience. This Wall Street Journal photo essay does a good job at showing the words and faces behind these ordinary protesters, such as one teenager saying she came out in order to put her beliefs into action. As another protester notes: “We deserve to be heard.”

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that, “a riot is the language of the unheard,” interpreting protests as a cry of the people in times of heartache. While MLK did not support riots or violence, he sympathized with those on the streets as a protester himself, instead arguing that, as a TIME article about protests paraphrases, “the way to stop citizens from rioting is to acknowledge and fix the conditions that they are rioting against.”

While this justice for George Floyd movement includes many perspectives, in general the protesters have two main goals: First, that Floyd’s family receive justice by ensuring the officers responsible for his death receive a fair trial; and second, that broader issues of systematic injustice and police brutality against Blacks and other minorities across America be challenged – or, in other words, that systems, such as the Minneapolis Police Department or LAPD be reformed to ensure citizens are treated more fairly.

Taking this perspective of looking at the protesters, former President George H.W. Bush wrote in response to George Floyd’s death that he is inspired to see so many people marching for a better future.

“This tragedy — in a long series of similar tragedies — raises a long overdue question: How do we end systemic racism in our society? The only way to see ourselves in a true light is to listen to the voices of so many who are hurting and grieving.”

George H.W. Bush (June 2020)

Conclusion: Justice At Home

A justice for George Floyd sign at a protest in Fullerton, CA, in June 2020

While walking back to my car after participating in a protest, the main question on my mind is: Now what?

What can I do, after the protest, to channel my thoughts into action?

For perhaps the past decade of my life, the most prominent Bible passage to me has been the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this story, a man gets beaten and robbed and left on the side of the road, and people pass him by skirting their glances and unwilling to provide him aid. Eventually, a man from Samaria helps him, bringing him to safety and caring for his wounds. The moral of the story, Jesus summarizes, is that this Samaritan man chose his calling to be the other man’s neighbor.

Jesus implored those listening to this story to “go and do likewise.”

The modern context of this passage is clear in our world experiencing poverty, a pandemic and a global yell of anguish against racial injustices. At the macro level, according to Timothy Keller, people can follow this example by going out to “do justice” of helping the poor and the hurting.

But social justice is not just about making a cardboard sign, tweeting #BlackLivesMatter, or calling for police reform, or any one topic.

Social justice is more than that. In the weeks I spent writing this article, I have been reflecting on other aspects of social justice: The rights of unborn babies. The middle-class family whose parents are in the middle of a divorce. The struggling business owner during COVID-19. The high school student experiencing anxiety during this pandemic.

All of these people and more are deserving of comfort and support. It is for this reason that I stand behind the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as other cries for justice, and why I will continue to look for ways to help those crying out for help.

To conclude, here are things we can do to act:

  1. Reach out to someone. Caring for and supporting our “neighbor,” or fellow humans, and loved ones is perhaps the most important thing we can do.
  2. Donate to or volunteer at organizations, nonprofits and churches that are working to rid homelessness, poverty, racism, substance abuse and other related issues.
  3. Write to your government officials, sign petitions, and share resources to social media in support. (Here’s how to demand justice for Breonna Taylor.)
  4. Learn about God’s heart for justice and how we can follow Jesus’ example to care for other people. A reading of the Gospel of Luke is a good place to start to understand how God’s heart is for the poor, the outcasts and the sinners.

Learn More About Social Justice, BLM and Related Topics

Books

“Generous Justice” by Timothy Keller

“How to be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram Kendi

“The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander

Articles

On Protesting: A Theological Reflection for the Privileged (Like Me) (Red Letter Christians)

Hundreds Join Lecrae, Christian Pastors in Calling for Racial Justice, Unity in Atlanta (Christian Post)

‘A Riot is the Language of the Unheard’: MLK’s Powerful Quote Resonates amid George Floyd Protests (USA Today)

Black Lives Matter May be the Largest Movement in U.S. History (New York Times)

Social Justice is a Christian Tradition, Not a Liberal Agenda (Sojourners)

Pew Research Center study on American’s views on Black Lives Matter protests

A Biblical Critique of Secular Justice and Critical Theory by Timothy Keller

Perspectives

Obama’s statement on the George Floyd protests

George H.W. Bush’s statement on the George Floyd protests

Martin Luther King Jr: I Have a Dream

What Four Organizers Want to See from America’s Protests (Vox)

CampaignZero (nonprofit), which has set 10 key areas, such as rethinking police use of force tactics, for agencies consider to help limit police violence and brutality

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