Can we all get along? But, I can’t breathe, officer.

Your weight is crushing my neck, but it will never suffocate my children’s dreams and the hopes of millions. Can’t you see it? They will. This is a democracy. You are a renegade constable indicted by an iPhone, and similar videos will help convict rioters. People, black and white, recognize the real virus, and it is not I. Though I have it, I died otherwise from one more lethal. Lady Justice will rise up with her blindfold and balance and find you wanton.

Can we all get along? But, I can’t breathe, governor.

Your delay brought destruction, but good people can rebuild. Can’t you anticipate it? Some of your constituents robbed buildings and turned police cars into pyres. Cameras also caught you with your hands in your pockets, an impossible posture for making timely calls. Masses have already voted with their feet. Responsible voters will push for order and reconsider civil servant hires.

Can we all get along? But, I can’t breathe, professor.

Your heavy words are choking civility, but cannot nullify your students’ citizenship. Can’t you hear it? They do. It’s not about a grade in your class, but making the grade with class. You call for them to rise up and demand justice for the disenfranchised, but these same students cannot define justice. They will seek better sages on different stages.

Can we all get along? But, I can’t breathe, church.

Your Bible has touched my soul, but your programs often seem afar. Can’t you discern it? The masses will decide. They look to a faith worth dying for but too many pulpits spew vanilla platitudes. Parishioners need biblical truths that transform not tickled ears and calls to conform. They will look for Moses and Jesus who have been to the mountaintop, not social media trends and faux friends. They want to end spiritual distancing.

Can we all get along? But, I can’t breathe, journalist.

Your best efforts raised issues, but too many people read with eyes wide shut. Can’t you write it again? Words still have consequences and our Constitution meaning. Democracy dies in darkness, and there the looting begins. A president or mayor is not always wrong and no newsroom or editor is always right. Champion anew the Law of Non-Contradiction, a necessary path to civility.

Can we all get along? But, I can’t breathe, jury.

Your verdict will be weighed by the living, but we victims watch only from heaven. Can’t you feel it? The living will. His knee stopped my blood but I suffered not in vain. To kill the accused without a trial brings trials all its own. I was likely headed back to jail, but it was my right to thrive or fail. Deeper issues than race press the pavement into a man’s face. Manslaughter by any other name is still a felony. Lawyers represent plaintiffs and defendants, jurors the actual evidence and another horrifying video the truth.

We can all get along. And, my kids can breathe, neighbor.

Your actions are too late for me, but your goodness will save a generation. You can hear it. Freedom rang louder than bullhorns, and amongst the broken glass you demonstrated class. While extremists from both ends came with vitriolic weapons, you brought shovels and wheelbarrows. You countered meanness and madness with meaningfulness.

We can all get along. And, our grandkids can breathe, musician.

Your lyrics resonate with the times, and your melodies and riffs thread the eras. America is much better than mob violence. You can sing it. Yes, you present a tapestry of hope. Sometimes it’s A Long Way Home, but we can individually and collectively Rise Up, be Overcomer(s). This is God’s Country, and for each of us, whether a 6’ 6” victim in Minnesota or a thin jogger in Georgia, let our descendants cling to you when the rains set it. If we are Candle(s) in the Wind, let us be much more than premature laments.

We can all get along. And, my brothers and sisters can breathe, pastor.

You preach the ancient text, but you see its modern standard-bearers. You can speak it. Broadcast virtuous anchors. Write about divine insights into the human condition and the need for redemption. And the need to engage, to remember Bonhoeffer’s challenge that not to speak or act is to speak and act; “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. God will not hold us guiltless.”

We can all get along. Some call me a hero, ignoring my troubled past while consumed with my troubling death. Perhaps I’ll more aptly be remembered as a hinge of history — as brighter doors opened and unjust ones closed. I can breathe now. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds seems a lifetime ago.

Jerry Pattengale

Dr. Jerry Pattengale recently spoke to the United Nations on protecting religious spaces and has authored numerous books, most recently Inexplicable: How Christianity Spread to the Ends of the Earth (and assisted the corresponding TV series). He was the interim president for Religion News Service (2109-20) and is the inaugural university professor at Indiana Wesleyan University. He graduated from high school at 16 and was homeless — a story featured by PBS in Leading the Way out of Poverty (WIPB, 2006).