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The contemporary worship song Breathe has been on repeat in my speakers this week. Do you know the song? It goes like this “This is the air I breathe. This is the air I breathe. Your holy presence, living in me….I am desperate for you. I’m lost without you.” Michael W. Smith sings a beautiful rendition of this song that opens up the divine corridors in my heart to connect with our Creator. I’ve been thinking of this song in light of Eric Garner’s death. Eric Garner died in the hands of a police officer who restrained him in a chokehold. 11 times Eric Garner cried out “I can’t breathe.”
This is the air I breathe…I’m desperate for you.
This song has taken on new meaning in my life as I think about Eric Garner and his death and him crying out in desperation for his breath. Breathing is one of the things that every human has to do. Breathing connects us in our humanity. If you’ve taken a yoga class you know how essential the prana (breath) is. It is the energy that gives life to our bodies and we share it with those who are around us. Our breathing is connected.
When a child of God can’t breathe, our breathing is impacted. When a child of God is choked to death, we are impacted. This is the air we breathe…we’re desperate for you.
On Monday, I joined 100 clergy in New York City in a prayerful protest in our City Hall. We began our protest at St. Paul’s chapel breathing and centering ourselves. The Word of God was shared and we worshipped together. After meeting our God in worship we marched in silence to City Hall. We gathered around the Black and Latino caucus in the middle of Broadway and shut down the street as we sang We Shall Not Be Moved. Moving into the City Hall Lower Chambers we gathered around our City Council members in prayer and presented our requests to our City. The two request include:
- That NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute every excessive force and wrongful death case by police offers and to immediately appoint a special prosecutor in the wrongful death of Eric Garner.
- That the NYC Council expedite a draft legislation making the chokehold illegal.
We left the lower chambers and then staged a Die In in the middle of the rotunda of the NYC City Hall. For 11 minutes clergy lay on the floor “dead” for the 11 times Eric Garner said “I can’t breathe.” Our faith-rooted “Die In” at City Hall was on the front page of the New York Times yesterday. My friend, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis said, “If a 14-minute video showing a man being choked and pleading for his life, if 11 repetitions of ‘I can’t breathe’ doesn’t merit a trial, then I don’t know what does? He couldn’t breathe. As people of God, committed to those on the margins, we can’t breathe. And God can’t breathe.”
Protests remain strong in New York City. On Friday there is another faith rooted protest that some of my clergy friends from around the country are coming in for. On Saturday there is a giant protest planned throughout the streets of NYC. Pray for us, join us, and work for justice in your communities!
We protest because black lives matter. We protest because breath is the life energy of us all. We protest because our faith demands action from us. Dr. King said “we are gravely misled if we think the struggle will be won only by prayer. God, who gave us minds for thinking and bodies for working, would defeat his own purpose if he permitted us to obtain through prayer what may come through work and intelligence. Prayer is a marvelous and necessary supplement for our feeble efforts, but it is a dangerous substitute.” (MLK, Sermon: The Answer to a Perplexing Question).
This is the air we breathe. We’re desperate for you, God.
Till the day justice and righteousness flow like a river, we keep breathing and marching.
My sister clergy, Reverend Lisa Jenkins (Senior Minister at St. Matthews Baptist Church in Harlem) and I join our clergy in the Die In at City Hall.