Should I Be More Scared of COVID or the Cops?


Image via Beatriz Ramos for The Americano

By Rev. Kevin Vandiver

June 2, 2020

If COVID-19 doesn’t get me, maybe the evil policing of the Black body will. And it doesn’t matter if I’m a “good” or “bad” Black; before I open my mouth, my skin has already spoken for me.

We didn’t spend much time thinking about breathing until COVID-19, the breath stealer, the asphyxiator—which debilitates the weak and the strong alike, the rich and the poor—started ravaging our city, destroying bodies, and claiming lives.

Until on February 23, unarmed 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, who was jogging through a neighborhood in South Georgia, was hunted by three white men in trucks and shot at near point-blank range with shotguns. Until on March 11, Breonna Taylor, a Kentucky EMT and aspiring nurse, was woken up in the middle of the night in her house by the police, who broke in with a “no-knock” warrant, and was shot eight times by the officers in response to the one-shot her boyfriend fired thinking someone was breaking in. Until on May 25, when George Floyd was arrested in Minneapolis for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill, and then choked for 9 minutes by a police officer who put his knee on his neck, despite his cries that he could not breathe.

Breathing: We don’t really think about it, until we have to.

If COVID-19 doesn’t get me, maybe the evil policing of the Black body will. And it doesn’t matter if I’m a “good” or “bad” Black; before I open my mouth, my skin has already spoken for me.

It hurts to be hunted.

I have to convince the world that my life matters. As soon as a Black person is killed, white supremacy attempts to discredit that body, to make it seem less than human. Because if somebody can make you see people like me as less than human or as criminals, then it shifts blame from the wrongdoers to the victims.

The Black body is pinned between 1619, the year the first ship with slaves arrived in America, and COVID 19—between a rock and a hard place. This is America. This is not an aberration or conspiracy. This is not political spin or fake news. 

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In the middle of it all, Donald Trump used military force to clear up a group of people peacefully protesting, so that he could do a photo op citing “law and order” to his base. And worst of all, it was in front of a church. In his hand, he held a Bible.

Here’s what I have to say about what Christianity really is.

The land of the (conditionally) free and the home of the (selectively) brave. 

I work for the New York Metropolitan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and many of our African American congregation members are suffering from racism, even in church. I often remind myself that systemic racism is continuously evolving, especially as a Black pastor in one of the whitest denominations.

Currently, we are all in the midst of a traumatic pandemic, and to add insult to injury, it seems that racism has not distanced itself from Black people. There are so many forces that want to stop the breath of the Black body. We are tired. We are heartbroken. We can’t breathe, and when we do breathe as of late, it is only in a few anxiety-ridden gasps at a time.

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Jesus had to think about his breathing, too. One day, his own body was choked on the cross until it was lifeless. Three days later, he appeared before his quarantined disciples and breathed on them. How ironic. Jesus breathed on them and with them. Jesus breathed in spite of the murderous intent that surrounded the disciples. He breathed on them while danger yet lurked, and while they are still in quarantine.

Jesus breathes on us still.

When I can’t breathe for myself. When my heart is overwhelmed, when I’ve been marginalized for whatever reason, Jesus comes among us in the midst of our quarantine. He pronounces peace and he breathes on us. He gives us life in the midst of impending death.

It can’t be stopped. It cannot be legislated against. It finds us in our most needy place. It soothes our doubts and calms our fears. It gives us hope that there will be a better tomorrow.

As we breathe with bated breath today, we must never forget that Jesus is breathing and spurring us on to keep working. To keep advocating. To keep pushing. To keep fighting.

We must use our voice and breath and life to support one another, love one another, and uphold the precious lives of one another. 


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