We’ve all seen the tragic footage: a handcuffed man lies prone on a Minneapolis street alongside a police vehicle, his face pressed into the asphalt pavement. “Please, please, I can’t breathe,” he cries. A police officer wearing sunglasses atop his head casually presses his left knee into the back of the suspect’s neck, ignoring the agonized pleas for oxygen. The cop looks around, looks at people filming the activity on their cell phones, but continues kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a man accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill.
Nearly everyone viewing the footage was disturbed and reaction was swift. The officers involved were fired and the kneeling cop quickly charged with murder. Some citizens expressed outrage through peaceful protest. Others rioted and looted. Many, especially those in the media, focused on the race of the two men: a white cop and a Black victim.
But not all of us see the same things in these videos. What can people seeking spiritual evolution glean from this tragedy? What would a spiritual response look like? What can be learned from the wrongful death of Mr. Floyd?
From a spiritual perspective, what’s deeply disturbing and clearly on display in Mr. Floyd’s death is man’s indifference to man. The police officer, Derek Chauvin, displays no emotion, no reaction to the pain of the person pressed under his knee. He may as well have been using his knee to secure a tarp to the ground on a windy day. It is not Chauvin’s race, but his complete disconnectedness from his fellow man that jumps out. As Martin Luther King, Jr. implored us, we should observe the content of Chauvin’s character, not merely the color of his skin.
The psychological and emotional alienation Officer Chauvin displays is at the heart of the human condition. It’s what we need to address if we are to evolve. The lack of feeling, of responsiveness to the suffering of others is killing us from within. And to prevent more tragedies, we need to shine a loving light on our own spiritual poverty.
This same indifference shown by Officer Chauvin was evident in the rioting, destruction and looting in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death. KB Balla, a Black firefighter whose life savings were poured into a sports bar in Minneapolis, saw his life savings literally go up in smoke when rioters torched his dreams.
“To find out that the countless hours, hard work, late nights away from my family had all been for nothing was soul shattering,” Balla said. “It is not the material things, more so the time that cannot be reclaimed.”
Sadly, the devastation suffered by Mr. Balla was not new. African-Americans have seen their neighborhoods and businesses repeatedly crushed during riots just like this. One of the most painful cases took place in Los Angeles in 1992, when the owner of a food truck tearfully confronted a crowd of looters after his truck was robbed and set ablaze.
“That’s not right,” the middle aged Black entrepreneur cried in a fevered rage. “I came from the ghetto like you kids. I tried to make it.” As the man publicly grieved his losses, rioters continued to pillage other business right in front of him. “They’re not listening,” someone in the crowd says.
As people seeking inward growth, we need to avoid piling pain upon pain. Rioting is not a fitting response to unwarranted death at the hands of police. Neither is focusing solely on race helpful as it distracts from a deeper cause. Instead, we need to confront the fact we live in a state of alienation. It’s a painful truth. And that’s why the footage of Officer Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Mr. Floyd is hard to watch. It exposes our spiritual poverty in a raw, brutal way. There’s an Officer Chauvin in every one of us. There’s also a Mr. Floyd. We are both victims and perpetrators of our indifference to each other. This vicious cycle is what spiritual seekers see in this tragedy and must address.
What can be done to evolve, to be more connected to one another, to nature and the subtle world of spirit? The first and most important step is to fully experience our inward poverty. Not in words. We must allow ourselves to go into it with openness, without condemnation of any kind. No conclusions or prejudice. With compassion for yourself, stay with your inner emptiness. Listen to it. Learn from it. Be patient. That is the beginning of change.
Under Color of Law
Another aspect of this tragedy that spiritual seekers might consider is the role of laws and government. Mr. Floyd was killed while in government custody, under color of law. In our current state, humans need laws, police and military force. Why? Because we are for the most part inwardly isolated, seeking our own benefit often with little or no regard for others. In this state, we are prone to trespass. So we elect politicians who enact laws which are enforced through the police and the courts.
While we evolve, we need to ensure government power is limited so we are free to explore new ideas and put them into practice. Freedom is a prerequisite to spiritual growth. That’s why spiritual seekers are wary of government intrusion. We reject the heavy hand of government dictating what we can believe or think or say.
The founders of the United States understood the danger of government intrusions on personal liberty. So, they established freedom of religion – not freedom from religion – as a cornerstone to all our liberties. They ensured our government could never impose any belief system on the people, nor prevent people from practicing their chosen beliefs. We continue to be blessed by their forethought.
We who choose spiritual evolution as a means of true, lasting change understand political expediency and the force of law may coerce some people to change behaviors for a time, but this doesn’t create inward growth. On the other hand, we do not advocate for anarchy, chaos or violence. Spiritual seekers are respectful of the law and the current need for it, but try to live in such a way that renders laws obsolete. Spiritual people live in the now, but with a vision for a tomorrow with no place for the bitter fruits of inner poverty: racism, greed, abuse of power. We understand that when we are able to see ourselves in one another and in nature, when we are filled with love for all things, conflict ends. At that point, we will be free at last.