Eric Garner & Systemic Injustice: The Sequel We Hoped For

I was wrong. Last month, I wrote a blog post called, “Ferguson: The Sequel.” My entire premise was that sequels disappoint. No matter how good or captivating the first movie is, the sequel always disappoints. I wrote how Michael Brown and Ferguson—in many respects for this generation—is an ugly sequel in the narrative of Black people in America. I spoke of my 70 year-old mother who wasn’t surprised at the lack of indictment because, well, she’d seen this before…another bad sequel.

black lives matter

I read emails, text messages, Facebook posts, and other correspondence from friends and strangers around the country finally getting X-ray vision to see and hear in deep ways the painful perspective of Black people in America. We watched as people across the country rallied to defend and attack Michael Brown. Over 170 cities around the nation shouted, “Black Lives Matter!” They created a hashtag on Twitter. News reports labeled Brown a “thug.” Darren Wilson, in his $500,000 paid interview with Good Morning America, said Brown was practically “superhuman” because even though he shot him four times, Brown continued “to charge” him. News reports said there were conflicting eyewitness reports which led to the grand jury’s lack of indictment. The President of the United States called for legislation to equip body cameras on police officers to guarantee accurate accounts of future interactions with police and ordinary citizens.

Then, the one of the greatest gifts of all time was given: the Grand Jury in New York decided not to indict a police officer in the choke-hold death of Eric Garner.

While the country was still watching, it happened again. While we were still crying and in shock—and in less than two weeks—it happened again. This time the entire ordeal was caught on tape, and still nothing happened. Stereotypes about aggressive Black men and the need to use deadly force: dismissed. The argument for police with body cameras: irrelevant. Right there on tape, a single incident that affirmed Black tears and silenced the mobs calling Black fears unfounded.

Somehow, even though Eric Garner was killed first, the indictment decision for his case came after Michael Brown’s. All the critiques, doubts, and reasonable doubts in and around Brown were thrown out the window with Garner.

Some say, “These are isolated incidents.” Yes, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Jordan Davis, Larry Jackson, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Rumain Brisbon, Kimani Gray, Kendrec McDade, Amadou Diallo, Timothy Stansbury, Sean Bell, Orlando Barlow, Aaron Campbell, Alonzo Ashley, Victor Steen, Ramarley Graham, and Tamir Rice (he was twelve years old by the way) are all isolated incidents. They all just happen to take place across the U.S. on an annual—sometimes weekly—basis. By the way, there are several more unarmed Black men who have been killed by the police, and I haven’t even mentioned the Black women.

Eric Garner is different…but the results were still the same.

I have seen much correspondence the last few days asking questions like, “How do we move forward?” or “Where do we go from here?”

There is only move forward: addressing and ending systemic injustice in the US and ultimately the world.


My friends, we will not go back to business as usual in 2015. Things will never go back “to normal.” Black men in America are in grave danger, myself included. The remedy for this is not talking, understanding, and/or building trust with police officers. All of those things are needed and important, but they are only one side of the conversation.

We cannot move forward until we heal.

Healing for the Black community means:

  • Confessing Systemic Injustice.
    There must be an acknowledgment by pastors and leaders of the unjust system that exists in the U.S. that benefits one group of people at the detrimental expense of another. There must be a confession by people who benefit from systemic injustice, and a confession of apathy towards it. Eric Garner isn’t the first unarmed Black man to die. It’s been happening. We need to confess it has been happening, it has been ignored, and that it has been acceptable in our society. Nehemiah confessed the sins of “his people and his household” (Nehemiah 1).
  • Creating a New System of Justice.
    Because our country is diverse, there will need to be practical steps of eliminating systemic injustice in our churches, organizations, and communities that will look differently. In Acts 6, when the early church recognized an ethnic group was being overlooked, they turned the entire system over to that group. That’s right: the first case for affirmative action is in the Bible, in the church, in the 1st century. We must call for the hiring, training, development, funding, and acceptance—not just of Black people—but of every ethnicity in the country. It can no longer be acceptable to cry out for diversity, invite diverse groups of people, and watch them starve in the midst of the prosperity of their peers.
  • Becoming Allergic to Poverty in Your City.
    The answer to poverty in the United States for decades has been more police. We spend more money as a nation on militarization than we do on poverty. This is not Christian. At all. Poverty ends when all people have adequate education, training, jobs, and salaries. Becoming allergic to poverty means your vote, your church, your business, and your money must look for programs that are, as Dr. King said, “anti-rat” not “anti-Black” or any ethnic group. Addressing poverty must be a practical response because poverty creates the economic disparities, maintaining the chasm between the rich and the poor. Gandalf, in J.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, was asked why a character made a really bad choice. He replied, “Because he was lost, in the dark, without hope, unable to go forward or backward.” That’s what poverty is. That’s what systemic injustice creates, and it must end.

This is a pregnant moment in our country. It is a Numbers 13 moment. We have toured the Promised Land. We have a vision of what the future can be, but there are giants. Not flesh and blood, but historic, systemic, generational ones. We have a choice. We can fight them head on and create a better world for ourselves and our children, or we can hide. We can sit in silence. We can give the apathetic answer, “It is systemic. Sorry.” I hope we chose the former, for if we choose the latter, we will continue to walk in circles, watching the same bad sequels.

1 thought on “Eric Garner & Systemic Injustice: The Sequel We Hoped For

  1. Great post Sean. My heart is heavier these daysŠ.and even heavier by the responses of many of my Christian friends and donors. Trying to respond with grace and truth about what is really going on that many of us don’t want to see. And don’t want to admit that it is racism and evil. “People should obey the lawŠ” blah blah blah. I am sorry for all that is happening. I am sorry that my black brothers and sisters and son-in-law don’t feel safeŠ.and actually aren’t safe. I don’t know what I can do, or what my role is in the wider issues, but I can speak to my friends and family when they defend the system and white cops. Lord have mercy!! bonnie

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