Bishops 'sickened' by Floyd's death, urge racism be met 'head-on'

By Julie Asher

Catholic News Service

6/1/2020

Protesters in Minneapolis gather at the scene May 27, 2020, where George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was pinned down by a police officer kneeling on his neck before later dying in hospital May 25. (CNS photo/Eric Miller, Reuters)Protesters in Minneapolis gather at the scene May 27, 2020, where George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was pinned down by a police officer kneeling on his neck before later dying in hospital May 25. (CNS photo/Eric Miller, Reuters)
Protesters in Minneapolis gather at the scene May 27, 2020, where George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was pinned down by a police officer kneeling on his neck before later dying in hospital May 25. (CNS photo/Eric Miller, Reuters)


WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Catholic bishops said May 29 they "are broken-hearted, sickened and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes."

"What's more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences. This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion," they said in a statement about the May 25 death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

In recent weeks, Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old African American man in Georgia, was fatally shot, and three white men were arrested and are facing murder charges in his death. In March, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African American woman, died at the hands of white police officers when they entered her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky.

"Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue to be bandied about when convenient," the bishops said. "It is a real and present danger that must be met head-on."

"As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference," they said. "We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life. We serve a God of love, mercy and justice."

"Indifference is not an option," they emphasized and stated "unequivocally" that "racism is a life issue."

The statement was issued by the chairmen of seven committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism; Archbishop Nelson J. Perez of Philadelphia, Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Auxiliary Bishop David G. O'Connell of Los Angeles, Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry of Chicago, Subcommittee on African American Affairs.

Floyd, 46, was arrested by police on suspicion of forgery. Once he was handcuffed, a white officer pinned him down on the street, putting his knee on Floyd's neck for eight minutes. A now widely circulated video shows Floyd repeatedly saying, "I can't breathe." He appears to lose consciousness or die and was later declared dead at the hospital.

The next day, hundreds of people protested at the intersection where police officers subdued Floyd, demanding justice for him and the arrest of the four officers involved. The officers were fired May 26 and as of midday May 29, local prosecutors filed criminal charges against at least one of the now former officers: The one seen putting his knee on Floyd's neck, identified as Derek Chauvin, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

The federal Justice Department promised a "robust" investigation into the circumstances surrounding Floyd's death.

Protests in Minneapolis have turned to violent demonstrations and lasted several days, prompting Gov. Tim Walz to bring in the National Guard May 29. The protests sparked similar rioting in at least a dozen U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, New York, Louisville, and Columbus, Ohio.

The bishops in their statement pointed to their "Open Wide Our Hearts" pastoral against racism approved by the body of bishops in 2018. In it, they said: "For people of color some interactions with police can be fraught with fear and even danger. People of good conscience must never turn a blind eye when citizens are being deprived of their human dignity and even their lives."

In their May 29 statement, the committee chairmen called for an end to the violence taking place in the wake of the tragedy in Minneapolis but also said they "stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged."

They joined with Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis in praying for the repose of the soul of Floyd "and all others who have lost their lives in a similar manner."

In anticipation of the feast of Pentecost, May 31, they called on all Catholics "to pray and work toward a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit" and pray to "to rid ourselves of the harm that bias and prejudice cause."

"We call upon Catholics to pray to the Holy Spirit for the spirit of truth to touch the hearts of all in the United States and to come down upon our criminal justice and law enforcement systems," the bishops said urged every Catholic, regardless of ethnicity, to "beg God to heal our deeply broken view of each other, as well as our deeply broken society."

Here is the full text of their statement:

We are broken-hearted, sickened and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes. What's more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences. This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.

Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue to be bandied about when convenient. It is a real and present danger that must be met head-on. As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference. We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life. We serve a God of love, mercy, and justice.

While it is expected that we will plead for peaceful nonviolent protests, and we certainly do, we also stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged. Too many communities around this country feel their voices are not being heard, their complaints about racist treatment are unheeded, and we are not doing enough to point out that this deadly treatment is antithetical to the Gospel of Life.

As we said eighteen months ago in our most recent pastoral letter against racism, "Open Wide Our Hearts," for people of color some interactions with police can be fraught with fear and even danger. People of good conscience must never turn a blind eye when citizens are being deprived of their human dignity and even their lives. Indifference is not an option. As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue."

We join Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis in praying for the repose of the soul of Mr. George Floyd and all others who have lost their lives in a similar manner. We plead for an end to the violence in the wake of this tragedy and for the victims of the rioting. We pray for comfort for grieving families and friends. We pray for peace across the United States, particularly in Minnesota, while the legal process moves forward. We also anticipate a full investigation that results in rightful accountability and actual justice.

We join our brother bishops to challenge everyone to come together, particularly with those who are from different cultural backgrounds. In this encounter, let us all seek greater understanding amongst God's people. So many people who historically have been disenfranchised continue to experience sadness and pain, yet they endeavor to persevere and remain people of great faith. We encourage our pastors to encounter and more authentically accompany them, listen to their stories, and learn from them, finding substantive ways to enact systemic change. Such encounters will start to bring about the needed transformation of our understanding of true life, charity, and justice in the United States. Hopefully, then there will be many voices speaking out and seeking healing against the evil of racism in our land.

As we anticipate the Solemnity of Pentecost this weekend, we call upon all Catholics to pray and work toward a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray for a supernatural desire to rid ourselves of the harm that bias and prejudice cause. We call upon Catholics to pray to the Holy Spirit for the spirit of truth to touch the hearts of all in the United States and to come down upon our criminal justice and law enforcement systems. Finally, let each and every Catholic, regardless of their ethnicity, beg God to heal our deeply broken view of each other, as well as our deeply broken society.

Protesters in Minneapolis gather at the scene May 27, 2020, where George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was pinned down by a police officer kneeling on his neck before later dying in hospital May 25.

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Catholic bishops said May 29 they "are broken-hearted, sickened and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes."

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