Centurion On Trial, Day 2

I wrote this after watching the second day of the trial of Derek Chauvin. I reflect on several of the parallels between this trial and the final days in the life of Jesus the Christ. I write in explicit terms about death and violence, so if these are sensitive topics for you, please consider whether you’d like to be confronted with these subjects today.

Today, I watched George Floyd die, over and over again.

I heard his distress as he complained of pain. I heard him say that he couldn’t breathe. I heard him ask for mercy.

Minutes passed.

Eventually, I heard his silence.

Again and again today, the court played the final 9 minutes of George Floyd’s life, recorded by three separate eyewitnesses, who all bravely recounted what they saw and experienced at the corner of 38th and Chicago, just after 8pm on May 25th, 2020.

This Holy Week, a veil is torn. At the insistent clamoring of restless people, a window to the courtroom has opened. May it never again be sealed. We watch. I watch.

I watch and I wonder if we have yet arrived at the saturation point.

Have we finally seen enough black men and women die brutally and senselessly at the hands of police officers? Can we stomach 9 more minutes of objective proof of our societal hatred for and shame of the dispossessed and disenfranchised?

This week, Christians follow Jesus, day by day, toward that grim series of betrayals and scourges that resulted in his murder. On Friday, we mourn Jesus’s death, carried out by the Roman centurions. We relive the occupation of Jerusalem by the Roman empire, which blessed the brutality of those men for whom this crucifixion was one among many, and the due course of another day’s work.

Today we bear witness to the trial of a modern-day centurion. Derek Chauvin, an officer of the law, carried out the will of the municipality when he killed George Floyd. Chauvin had every reason to believe that he was within his rights to rest the full weight of his badge, indefinitely, on Floyd’s neck.

George Floyd had no reason to believe that he’d die on May 25th, 2020, outside Cup Foods, in the street, in front of a gathered crowd that cried along with him for mercy. He probably did not go into the corner store that evening, intending to rally people to the cause of police accountability, through his public execution.

We do not need to see George Floyd as a martyr in order to see him enfolded into our story of human redemption. We know, from Jesus’s interaction with the two men hanging on crosses beside him, that Jesus sees and loves George Floyd. And because Jesus extends the table of grace to those convicted to death by the state, so can we.

As partners with Jesus, we are not bound to the state’s warped sense of justice. We are not conformed to the dogmas and morays that value a $20-dollar-bill or 30 pieces of silver, more than human beings, made in God’s image.

Jesus died for the embarrassment he caused those in power. Recalcitrant navel-gazing religious leaders and narcissistic demigods alike were shamed in the presence of humility and grace. He died for all the ways we all seek control in the face of our vulnerability and powerlessness.

Floyd died over our national embarrassment for our ongoing complicity with racism and capitalism. He died over our collective shame around drug addiction. He died under the weight of our societal indulgence of unrestrained violence to regain a sense of control.

Today we listened, as witnesses too young to be shown on camera recounted watching George Floyd slip from being conscious and vocalizing his pain and distress, to going limp, salivating, and his eyes rolling back in his head.

Today we listened as, in his examination of Donald Williams, II, Chauvin’s defense attempted to draw parallels between Chauvin’s stance over Floyd with a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) cage match. Further, we listened as, on cross, prosecution allowed Williams to remind us all that, in MMA:

  • if a person taps the mat, the ref calls the fight.
  • if a person passes out, the ref calls the fight
  • no one is handcuffed
  • fights are never 4 against 1

We heard an off-duty firefighter offer to give George Floyd medical attention. We listened as she grew more and more concerned for his life with the passage of each minute. We heard her anger and sorrow on the witness stand.

Today, we were drawn back to the scene of the tragedy, again and again. We were confronted with the worst of what is within the human heart. As Derek Chauvin and his fellow officers steeled themselves against countless cries for mercy, they forfeited their humanity for the cold scepter of power and control. George Floyd died sacrificially for this fleeting sensation, which may now bear its heavy, heartless weight on the man who murdered him, and his accomplices.

Fashioned from the same obsession with order and control, our courts perform a desperate pantomime for justice. I will seek temporary relief in Derek Chauvin’s conviction. I will also keep waiting, praying, and working for a day when our systems don’t conspire to end lives so wantonly for the sake of a fragile peace – one that is fashioned from the fear of the threat of violence.

With Calvary as my template for the failure of worldly systems, and Easter my hope for lasting peace through redemption, I will make my temporary truces with this world’s systems, keeping my eyes on what will reform, rebuild and restore.

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