When bystanders intervene, justice prevails
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/04/2021 (702 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s attorney general, called the bystanders who bore witness to George Floyd’s murder “a bouquet of humanity.”
He gave a nod to prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell, standing behind him at Tuesday’s post-verdict news conference, for coining the phrase.
“They stopped and raised their voices, and they even challenged authority because they saw his humanity,” Ellison said. “They stopped and they raised their voices because they knew that what they were seeing was wrong. And they were right.”
Darnella Frazier, 17 years old at the time, a high school student, saw Floyd on the ground, under Derek Chauvin’s knee. She walked her young cousin into nearby Cup Foods and then returned to the sidewalk and pressed “record” on her phone.
“The world needed to see what I was seeing,” she told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in May. “Stuff like this happens in silence too many times.”
Her video changed everything.
You may recall the initial statement from the Minneapolis Police Department, released on May 25, headlined, “Man dies after medical incident during police interaction.”
“Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car,” the statement read. “He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later. At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident.”
Ellison credited, too, the millions of people who marched and protested after Floyd’s death for keeping his life and his death where it belonged — in the public eye.
“His death shocked the conscience of our community, our country, the whole world,” Ellison said.
I love the phrase “bouquet of humanity.” The one that popped into my mind was “stone catchers.”
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, uses the phrase to describe the people who stand up and intervene when someone’s humanity is being robbed.
“I’ve always been struck by that parable, that Scripture, that story where Jesus encounters the woman who has been caught in adultery,” Stevenson told NPR’s Krista Tippett. “And those who are there to judge her say that the law says we should stone her to death. And the Scripture reveals that Jesus says, well, let he of you that is without sin cast the first stone. And they’re convicted by that, because they know that none of them is sinless, and they one by one put their stones down and they walk away.”
But the self-righteous don’t always put down their stones.
“And so I think it’s incumbent on some of us to intervene, to catch the stones,” Stevenson continued. “It doesn’t mean that those vulnerable should be condemned; it just means that some of us are going to have to be stone catchers. And that’s the idea that I’ve come to embrace, is that just because people won’t recognize what the right and just thing is to do, that it’s not right and just to cast those stones, doesn’t mean that that’s the end of the struggle. We have to stand up. We have to stand in front of those who are vulnerable and we have to catch those stones.”
Darnella Frazier is a stone catcher. The court witnesses are stone catchers. The crowds who protested peacefully, from Chicago to Salt Lake City, from Portugal to Australia, are stone catchers.
“That Scripture is still there,” Stevenson said during an interview about the Christian church’s role as stone catcher. “That challenge is still there, not to judge. But people are picking up stones and throwing them left and right. I think the new church, this church, has to be willing to be stone catchers. We’ve got to be willing to stand in places where we bear the burden of those who’ve been wrongly accused and condemned. We bear the burden of those who are being presumptively treated as if they’re dangerous or guilty. We have to bear the burden of those disfavoured communities in our country and across the world — those religious minorities, those sexual minorities, those undocumented communities, people who are Black and brown.
“We have to bear their burdens,” he continued. “We have to stand up and catch the stones that are cast at them, and then we make a witness. Then we make a statement about our faith that is empowering that’s transformative.”
He was speaking about faith in God. His words, I think, can also be a call to find and act on our faith in humanity — to recognize what’s right and just, to refuse to accept that justice isn’t accessed or applied equally, to push for a better, fairer world. To catch stones.
“I would not call today’s verdict justice, however, because justice implies true restoration,” Ellison said at Tuesday’s news conference.
Floyd was murdered. His daughter will grow up without a father. His family will never be made whole.
“But it is accountability,” Ellison said. “Which is the first step towards justice, and now the cause of justice is in your hands.”
Heidi Stevens is a columnist with the Chicago Tribune.