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In 1939, African-American songstress Billie Holiday sang her classic song, “Strange Fruit,” which goes as follows:

Southern trees bear strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,

Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,

Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,

For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,

For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,

Here is a strange and bitter crop.

This song became the anthem against the evil practice of the legalized lynching of African Americans by white supremacists in the South. These powerful lyrics highlight the absolute horror of lynching and the extent to which white supremacists practiced this atrocious act as they hanged or burned innocent African Americans alive and left their bodies hanging from the poplar trees to be eaten as fruit by the crows.

This country has come a long way since institutionalized white supremacy and legalized lynching. However, many African Americans and people of color believe that there is a new lynching tree. It’s known as the American justice system. And, although this lynching tree parades around the U.S. in a robe of justice by proclaiming equal treatment for all people, some African Americans and people of color think that the justice system has at times treated them as unjustly as the lynching tree itself.

The most recent example of such injustice is the murder of Mr. Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. As highly-cited video footage shows, Mr. Garner was seized by a police officer, placed in an illegal chokehold, and suffocated to death for resisting an arrest garnered by illegally selling cigarettes. Although Mr. Garner expressed that he couldn’t breathe multiple times on the video, the police officer did not release his chokehold on Mr. Garner, which resulted in his death.

A grand jury saw this video and yet still decided against indicting the police officer involved in the death of Mr. Garner. The grand jury’s failure to indict this specific police officer is one of many recent events over the course of years of injustice that makes many African Americans and people of color strongly question the justice of the American legal system when it comes to their treatment and rights. Similar to the days of legalized lynching and white supremacy in the South, to many African Americans and people of color, the system seems to be a modern lynching tree.

However, perhaps for the first time in modern American history, an enormous amount of white Americans are beginning to see what many African Americans and people of color have known from the first day they stepped foot on the New World: namely, the U.S. justice system has often been and continues to be unjust toward African Americans and people of color. In Billie Holiday’s day, the “strange fruit” of black bodies was due to their bodies having been unjustly hanged on the lynching tree. In our day, many African Americans, people of color, and whites believe that the “strange fruit” of black bodies are unjustly killed as victims of the U.S. justice system.

May God give all Christians from all races within the church of Jesus Christ the strength and courage to fight against all forms of injustice with the reconciling power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by proclaiming the reconciliation of that Gospel to a racist and unjust society!

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