“My initial reaction was a vexing of my soul.”
Rev. Walter Lanier’s reaction to the death of George Floyd, at the hands of now-fired Minneapolis police officers, is not unique. But he believes a pivot point has come for citizens of all racial backgrounds, one which is leading to greater education on racial issues and a chance to come up with solutions for fighting racism.
“Here, there is an opportunity…we can move forward as a community,” Rev. Lanier, the pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Milwaukee told WTMJ’s Steve Scaffidi on Wednesday.
“We’ve had dramatic change in the nation when it comes to race, only when there has been the shedding of blood.”
That bloodshed shocked the nation as people saw Floyd’s death.
“I was unable to watch the entire video. It was enough to see the image of a man dying with another man indifferent, having his knee in his neck for 10 minutes,” said Lanier.
“It was an officer of the law…it made it seem like we’ve not come that far, because this has been a history, not just George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, (Joel) Acevedo here.”
Rev. Lanier cites how the response of both peaceful protest by most, and violent unrest by some, is the effect of “profound injustice and inhumanity.”
“Now that we know that’s the reality, how do we draw people together towards pointing out injustice, calling it by name what it is, and then pursuing it with the best collective (effort)?” he asks.
He says that the first part of the pathway involves giving opportunity for those who have been affected by racism to share their experience.
“Creating space for people who are hurting, to express frustration, bitterness, rage…at a problem that has been with us since the founding of the nation,” he says.
He also cites reasons for hope through both the size and the universality of the response to the Floyd killing and the underlying issues.
“A lot of people saying ‘Finally,’ a lot of people protesting, kneeling, praying, posting…in the midst of a pandemic. That is even more profound. We are doing all this and people are risking their very lives because of the intense depth of the injustice,” he believes.
“The persistence of the people, persistence of the youth, of people on the ground…diversity of the crowds, refusal to stop in the face of surely a murder and maybe execution, talks about the heart of the people.”
Rev. Lanier cited Milwaukee’s level of segregation as a potential challenge to bringing healing, but believes getting in the same room to create those spaces of expression and listening can lead to change.
But he calls for people from “a lot of communities” to take personal steps.
“Everybody should humble themselves. Everybody. Everybody’s title reflects a function and should not reflect a hierarchy. The Bible says be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Some of us are in position where we have the luxury to manifest that. Some have not had their opportunity to voice their anger. We need to create space…to express and to hear,” Rev. Lanier says.
“We have to get a critical mass of people moving in the same direction…well-intended, well-actioned, reasonably well-informed people can make a difference.”