The March between Kit Land Nelson Park and the Apopka Police Department, like those around the nation, can be, needs to be, must be a turning point for all of us, in words, in policies, in actions.

We’re all in this together.

That’s a safe phrase we’ve been using to show solidarity during the pandemic. And why not? COVID-19 has no allies, ideology, or belief system that might create supporters. We may disagree on when to wear masks or how to open businesses, but we are all against COVID-19.

But how about race relations, law enforcement, or criminal justice reform? Would that same phrase “we’re all in this together” apply? Are we even close to being of one mind on those issues?

At 11:30 am yesterday, about 1,000 souls gathered at Kit Land Nelson Park in Apopka to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th. Pastor Gerard Moss, of the St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Apopka, challenged the crowd to show a good example.

“I wonder what God is saying to us? Moss asked. “A wise Jewish Rabbi said, ‘Let your light so shine before people that they might see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.'”

He also expressed the frustrations that those gathered at the park shared.

“You hear, ‘I don’t see color!’ Unless you’re color blind, you see color. I can see you and still love you for who you are. Regrettably, the reality is that when people don’t see people, they will keep their foot on your neck for more than 9 minutes. Thank God that in 2020, in all 50 states [we are hearing] ‘I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired’.”

After the speeches concluded, Pastor Hezekiah Bradford, President of the South Apopka Ministerial Alliance, gave an opening prayer, and then the march began, walking about a mile down Park Avenue to the Apopka Police Department.

They marched peacefully, passionately, and they chanted:

“No Justice – No Peace.”

“Black Lives Matter.”

“Say His Name – George Floyd.”

Apopka High School alumni and local pastors organized the march, but among the 1,000 were blacks, whites, young, old, conservatives, and liberals, to name just a few of the diverse people groups in attendance. There were 1,000 marchers with 1,000 opinions yet one cause on this rainy summer morning.

A march for justice.

It’s important to look for common ground with an issue as controversial, heated, and escalating as George Floyd’s killing. And in this case, perhaps there are a few elements where everyone can agree.

While the violence, looting, and vandalism we’ve seen occur around the nation these last few weeks is less than ideal and has put innocent people and communities at risk, it has also raised awareness of how serious a time we’re in. It has raised awareness that the voices that need to be heard, and the changes that need to be made, haven’t been, and until they are, until we do, the struggle will continue. Maybe we can agree that the attention is needed, the seriousness of where we are as a country on racial injustice needs to be grasped and the reality changed. Now. Not after another shocking experience, not after another death, but now.

Maybe we can also agree, and be highly thankful for the fact that, while there have been the violent and understandable expressions of anger over injustice, the vast majority of protests and protesters have been peaceful and inspiring, like the March for Justice in Apopka.

There are many debate points on the issues that brought America to this place. But what is not up for debate is the treatment George Floyd received by former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.

All of us, by now, have watched the horrifying video as Floyd pleads for his life. We see Chauvin’s transition from an officer to a murderer. We see his cold stare away from Floyd; his merciless tactics absent from any police training he may have received. We see his casual, callous hand-in-his-pocket attitude. We see his utter lack of empathy or even human decency with Floyd’s struggle to breathe.

Chauvin may have worn a uniform on May 25th, but he did not represent the standards of a police officer who takes an oath to serve, protect, and defend. Law enforcement leaders across the country agreed – these were not the actions of an officer their agencies would stand for.

Locally, Apopka Police Chief Michael McKinley condemned Chauvin’s actions in a statement he wrote on behalf of the Orange Osceola Police Chief’s Association. It reads, in part:

“The members of the Orange Osceola Police Chief’s Association are deeply disturbed by the death of Mr. George Floyd and understand how his death should be troubling to all Americans. The officers’ actions in the death of Mr. Floyd are inconsistent with the training and protocols of our profession, especially for the law enforcement professionals in Orange and Osceola Counties. Their actions hurt the bond that our agencies work hard to build with the communities we serve.”

Although no elected official gave remarks, there were some in attendance.

“An amazingly powerful morning supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and the continued advocacy of equal treatment from our law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system,” said Apopka City Commissioner Kyle Becker on his Facebook page. “As I would have anticipated, our community came together with purpose and did so peacefully and respectfully. But peaceful did not mask the magnitude of what is at stake… dignity, quality of life, and equality for the black community and people of color. As I marched to the police department with my fellow residents and took a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, I felt first hand the gravity of our current situation. Not a sound was made as hundreds took that knee, until after about 5 minutes when one in the crowd sobbed, probably after realizing how uncomfortable putting all your weight on your knee to the pavement for even a minute was painful, and realizing that officer in Minnesota kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for almost 9, robbing him of his life. I felt so proud of our city, our residents, our Apopka Police Department who supported the organizers, and the Black Lives Matter leaders in our community who continue to fight for what is right, what is just. I love Apopka.”

Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson also participated in the march and was impressed with the young adults who coordinated the event.

“We’re so proud of our young people for getting involved in an issue that they are so passionate about,” he said. “They have a bright future ahead of them.”

All of us can agree with McKinley that Chauvin acted in a manner not befitting a sworn officer. We can also agree with Becker that Apopka deserves a lot of credit for its peaceful support of this cause. We can also agree with Nelson that the young organizers of this event were impressive.

And finally, all of us can also agree that George Floyd shouldn’t be dead. That seems like enough common ground to build a foundation for dialogue.

But what sort of spirit and attitude do we need for the harder topics?

In the Book of Luke (Chapter 10:25-37), Jesus has an interesting discussion with a person called “an expert of the law” about the most important commandments.

“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered,” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this, and you will live.”

The teacher followed-up that question with another.

“And who is my neighbor?”

In reply, Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

You may recognize the parable of the Good Samaritan, but what you may not realize is the contempt that first-century Israelites had for Samaria. It would be a hard lesson for them to accept the Samaritan as an example of a good neighbor, and even harder for them to love a Samaritan as a neighbor.

So whoever in this story is your perceived enemy, a political rival, or on the opposite side of your beliefs, I challenge you to look upon them as your neighbor. Try to understand them. Listen to the experiences and viewpoints that got them there.

I understand the difficulties associated with suspending your own opinions temporarily to hear someone else’s, but consider what’s at stake, and what all of us have endured these past few weeks. It’s worth a small dose of humility to gain the insight of someone you don’t agree with to get closer to a solution.

After all, we’re all in this together.

 

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