Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Pray for Nashville: 6 Killed in Mass Shooting at Christian School

"I Can't Breathe"

  • Dr. James Emery White

    James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theologyand culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he…

  • 2014 Dec 11

There would be few reading this unaware of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, regarding the shooting death by a police officer of Michael Brown. This was quickly followed by the asphyxiation of Eric Garner in New York as a result of a chokehold during an arrest.

Neither case resulted in a grand jury indicting the officer involved.

Many lumped the two together, but I did not. To my thinking, they were very, very different. Apparently I’m not alone. A USA Today poll found that most Americans supported the Brown decision, but not the Garner decision.

I don’t want to get into the racial elements.

I don’t want to get into the pros and cons of grand jury indictments.

I don’t want to get into the perils of resisting arrest.

I don’t want to get into the difficulties and challenges of police work.

I only want to get into one thing:

“I can’t breathe.”

It’s said a picture is worth a thousand words. If so, a video must be worth ten thousand. Or in this case, an extremely potent three. If you saw it, you know that those three words were repeated eight times. And after he was on the ground, held down by multiple other men, and being handcuffed.

“I can’t breathe.”

I don’t care if he resisted arrest.

I don’t care if he weighed 300 or more pounds.

I don’t care if he had a criminal history.

At the time of the arrest, all I care about are those three words.

“I can’t breathe.”


Because I am a follower of Christ. I am a follower of Christ before I am a member of a political party, before I am a cultural “conservative” or “liberal,” and certainly before I am either “black” or “white.” 

And as a follower of Christ, I understand every human being to be someone made in the very image of God and of immeasurable worth to their Father. 

The color of their skin does not matter.

Their arrest record does not matter.

Their non-lethal resistance to arrest does not matter.

What matters is their “imago dei.” The image of God reflected in their very soul. And no human being should have been handled that way, much less in that situation.


And this includes the breaking news of the extent of torture carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency. [I couldn’t help but think of the connection between water-boarding and a chokehold – both are acts on another that keep them from breathing.] It doesn’t matter whether such acts fell short of a legal definition of torture, or whether they were effective.

Torture is simply wrong. Why? Because no human being, made in the image of God, should be treated that way.


As I watched the video of Eric Garner’s arrest, I could only imagine one of my sons, resisting arrest for whatever stupid or miscalculated reason, who then found himself thrown to the ground and fighting for air.

And dying.

Dear God. I can barely sustain the thought.

So whatever needs to happen to address racism in our land,

     ...and the great evil is that it does thrive;

...whatever needs to happen to uphold justice,

     ...and only a naïve observer would assume it flows freely;

…whatever needs to happen to support police in their responsibilities, not to mention rid police forces of rogue elements,

     …and both must be pursued;

…whatever needs to happen to end all affronts to the worth and dignity of human beings as made in the image of God;

Whatever needs to happen, until it does,

     …for Christ’s sake,

     …let them breathe.

James Emery White



Susan Page, “Poll: Americans back charges in Eric Garner death,” December 8, 2014, USA Today, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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