So much for procrastination. For several weeks now the need to blog has been gnawing at me. I’ve been looking for a good space in my schedule to post. Covid has been a moving target that I’ve just become fed up with. Do I keep uploading pictures of zoom meeting 3X3s? I also took some days back in May to travel to Illinois helping my son with his big move to California. Then things started heating up in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing. I wasn’t really sure how this was going to land in my own community. Till the weekend of May 29th!
Demonstrations were peaceful in my town. At first. Friday night. Saturday night. Sunday night. The tension escalated throughout the weekend. We live on 51st Avenue, about half a mile east of where the demonstrations began. Our local Target store is at 72nd and Dodge in midtown. It’s a huge intersection protesters had blocked off. Friday night seemed pretty orderly. Not Saturday night. What started at 72nd street was eclipsed by protests and looting in the Old Market area of downtown Omaha.
That night I was in my backyard packing our SUV for a trip to Illinois (helping my son’s family move). Sirens tore past our block as police vehicles raced to downtown. Lots of demonstrators. And lots of vandalism to downtown businesses. A shooting happened outside a bar whose owner had foolishly carried a weapon to the scene. James Scurlock, an unarmed black man in his 20s was shot to death – not by police. Why was the bar owner there with a weapon in the first place? Many more details came out in the aftermath.
Jake Gardner, owner of The Hive, has a well worn reputation with flagrant racist tendencies. At first it was perceived as a self-defense shooting. Shortly afterwards enough evidence surfaced to have Gardner face a grand-jury trial (not the immediate acquittal it looked like he was about to receive).
“I can’t breathe” reverberated through the streets of my town. I was only able to catch up with the details later in the week. I had left Omaha that weekend and traveled over the road in a U-Haul with Aaron the following week. We saw evidence of the nation-wide unrest as we traveled. St. Louis shops were boarded up. Curfews were imposed in many of the states we passed through – not the least of which was California. The night we arrived in the L.A. area an Amazon warehouse was burnt to the ground.
The pictures I’ve used in this post are the work of two gifted photo-journalists who helped me see what had happened back here in Omaha. It’s one thing to see things on the news in other communities, it’s another to feel the unrest in your own part of town and see the images of what happened. Thanks to Chris Machian and Anna Reed I can see not only the physical damage on the streets – I can begin to see the toll this takes on Black lives. The look on the face of a father who will never see his son again. The tears of a friend shocked at how senselessly life can be taken away.
I was in the same moment proud of my community and repulsed by my community. Encouraged to see the diverse, young crowds of demonstrators – on message and insisting on change. And repulsed by the unbridled race-bating and hatred shown in Mr Gardner’s behavior. Horrified that a business establishment in my town had such poor standing yet stayed in operation till now.
Pray for my town. Pray for me and for InterVarsity’s ministry with students and faculty. Pray for BCM (Black Campus Ministry) and BSAP (Black Scholars and Professionals) – InterVarsity’s ministries among African Americans. Pray for InterVarsity’s leadership as we continue to respond not only to the devastation of the Covid pandemic, but also the sad, persistent drama of racism, nationalism and white supremacy.
If you’d like to track with more details on the Omaha stories, here are a few links you may find of interest.
Thanks for your prayers!