I Was Pulled Over at 2:00 am.: A Preacher’s Response to George Floyd

I could share a bible verse about all people are created in the image of God, or how Jesus showed compassion to the Samaritan minority or James saying God does not play favorites, but to be honest, I am too heartbroken for a Sunday School response right now, and you do not need biblical proof that the death of George Floyd was tragic because of course it was. Instead, I have a story.

A couple of years ago my wife and I attended a dinner and party, which was a fund raiser for the poultry industry of Georgia.  This party was in Atlanta which is about two hours from where we live in North East Georgia.  We left this party around midnight, and it was about 2:00 am. when we rolled into our home county, and when we were no more than 5 minutes from our home, blue lights flashed behind our SUV.  

I wasn’t speeding, nor did I partake of an alcoholic beverage at the party we attended.  Since I wasn’t speeding, I thought this was a basic sobriety stop where the officer was checking to see if I was drinking and driving.  I even joked to my wife, as we were gathering together license and registration, that the officer may make me walk a line or hop on one foot.  Ended up, we had a headlight out.  We had a nice conversation with the officer.  We discussed him having the night shift.  I invited him to our church.  In ten minutes, we were home.  

Never at any point was I scared or even worried.  Obviously, I am a white man.  It was 2:00 am., pitch dark, on a lonely Georgia highway.  No other person in sight.  I was not even nervous.  I even made a joke…made a joke…that the officer may make me take a sobriety test.  It is a completely foreign concept that I cannot even imagine being in the shoes of a black man being afraid during a routine traffic stop.  But as foreign as it is for me to be afraid during a traffic stop, we have multiple minorities who cannot imagine making a joke and not being anxious at a police officer walking to their car door.  How on earth can that be true in America? 

My father has taught me many things.  We have had numerous conversations on how to be a godly man.  Of the ten thousand conversations and life lessons and lectures I have received from my dad and still receive from time to time, he never once told me how to handle a traffic stop or how to respond to police officers in general.  It boggles my mind that in America the majority of my black friends have received that talk from their dads.  How on earth can that be true in America?

It is obvious we have a racial divides in this country.  It is obvious we have racial problems in this county.  

A black man being pulled over at 2:00 am. on a dark lonely highway in North East Georgia should be able to make the same joke I made and have the same level of comfort that I had when I was pulled over.  

It is easy for us, regardless of color, to get angry at the videos of George Floyd, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, among others.  It does not take three men with their full body weight to hold down a handcuffed man…especially one that wasn’t fighting or resisting.  Our country must change.  

But it is also easy for us to ignore the needed change because of the violent protests.  We become distracted to the racial divides and the problem that we have with law abiding black people being afraid and distrustful of the police.  We become distracted and say, “see this burning…see that looting.”  Yes, violence in looting and violence in protest is wrong, but do not let a second wrong cause us to ignore the first.  

These protests are so violent because as a society we have turned such a deaf ear.  I will be first to admit I had no idea how pervasive and how significant black people’s fear and distrust of some in law enforcement truly is.  Also, I was unaware at just how many black people can tell stories of their experiences with certain police officers.    

We must do something.  We must not just say police brutality is a problem.  Or the death of George Floyd or Eric Garner or Philando Castile or Freddie Gray or Walter Scott or Kelly Thomas or Oscar Grant and so on are tragedies.  We must DO something.  

I know what some of you are thinking.  Solving racism is an immensely complex task, and that may be true, but taking one step towards trying to heal the racial divides is not that difficult.  We just have to want to.  Doing something is a no brainer.  

Do not tell me it is too hard or it is too complex of an issue for our country to address.  There was a terror attack upon our country September 11th 2001.  27 days later on October the 8th, Tom Ridge began work leading the newly formed Office of Homeland Security to prevent future acts of terror in the country.  

Racism, racial divides, and the distrust between law enforcement and so many of the black communities across our county have reached a tragedy level on par with 9-11, and we need a 9-11 type response. 

There are two significant problems regarding the police using deadly force.  First, there is no official database where the use of deadly force by the police must be reported.  Law enforcement cannot prove if the majority use of deadly force is not racially motivated because their is no database that collects this information.  Law enforcement cannot see if a racial problem exists within itself to correct, because again, there is no database that collects this information.  How can that be possible?  

Second, on many occasions, the officers that investigate the use of deadly force are within the same group as the one(s) who used the deadly force.  It is co-workers investigating co-workers.  Even if you have an honest investigation, the appearance of a fair investigation is non-existent when you have co-workers examining co-workers.  

We need legislation, and we need it now.  And the first step to addressing this issue is not that hard.  

  1. Body cams for all law enforcement.  People do better when others are watching.  My father has never, ever heard me say a cuss word.  We do better when others are watching.  This is expensive, but you know, I think black people and black communities are worth the expense. 
  1. Every use of deadly or extreme force by law enforcement must be reported to an official government database.  Then it can be studied, and steps taken to improve policing.   
  1. Every use of deadly force, must be fully investigated by an outside law enforcement agency.  If it the FBI that uses deadly force, state police investigates.  If state, then FBI, and so on.   

Will these three steps solve racism.  Probably not…but will these three steps show black communities and minority communities that we hear their cries, and we care enough about them to respond and to act?  Yes they will.  

Do you know who else body cams, reporting, and deadly force investigations will help besides the minority communities?  Good cops, because they will be proved to be good cops.  

All I know is the status quo cannot remain.  

This is bipartisan legislation that is beyond obvious.  

Do not let the looting distract you from the serious problem that sparked the looting.  This is not a statement in support of violence.  You don’t need me to tell you violence is wrong, but do not let the violence amongst some of the protests distract us from crying out for change.  

Call and call and call your congressman and senators.  Body cams for all law enforcement.  Report and study all uses of deadly and extreme force.  Independent investigation of all uses of deadly force.  It should be passed, at most, in 27 days.  

A black man being pulled over at 2:00 am should be able to crack jokes, instead of worrying about how to place his hands in the most the non-threatening location.  

Truly, Jesse Colbert