This article is part of the Arc of Justice series, responding to the killing of George Floyd and the international movement it has sparked.
On Juneteenth, Plough’s Peter Mommsen talked to Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III and Dr. Jacqueline Rivers about the international movement that’s grown in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
Plough: You both have been working for decades as Christian leaders in the Dorchester neighborhood in Boston. What have been your thoughts in the weeks since George Floyd’s killing on May 25, 2020?
Jacqueline Rivers: Mostly, I’ve been thinking about what the response of the church should be; it’s been heavy on my heart because the church has not played a clear role. It seems as though the protesting young people, many of whom are not people of faith at all, are coming out in hundreds of thousands, because we, the church, haven’t done enough to advance racial justice and so God has placed this responsibility on the shoulders of nonbelievers.
Eugene Rivers: It’s important for the church to think more creatively, and to pay much more attention to history. I’m old enough to have seen the riots the night Martin Luther King was assassinated, April 4th, 1968. The rage young people felt then had been growing, as the theater of struggle shifted beyond the deep South to cities like Los Angeles, where the first major riots happened. Today’s movement has been building since the death of Trayvon Martin. Right before George Floyd, we had the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. And the church, black and white, did not see deeply enough into the nature of the crisis. We have to look in the mirror and ask, “Where were we? How were the nonbelievers able to exhibit this level of black–white solidarity?”