Even as the United States still finds itself grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, outrage, grief and anger over the latest killing of an unarmed black man outweighed caution as hundreds of thousands turned out nationwide to protest and many of the country’s Catholic bishops joined the calls for justice.
The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis “was senseless and brutal, a sin that cries out to heaven for justice,” and protests taking place nationwide “reflect the justified frustration and anger” of millions of Americans who today suffer because of racism, said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“But the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles. “Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost. Let us keep our eyes on the prize of true and lasting change.”
What the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said is “true...that riots are the language of the unheard,” the archbishop continued. “We should be doing a lot of listening right now. This time, we should not fail to hear what people are saying through their pain. We need to finally root out the racial injustice that still infects too many areas of American society.”
Archbishop Gomez asked, “How is it possible that in America, a black man’s life can be taken from him while calls for help are not answered, and his killing is recorded as it happens?”
Floyd, 46, was arrested May 25 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 more than eight minutes. A 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 four officers involved in the arrest were fired; the former officer who put his knee on Floyd, Derek Chauvin, was arrested May 29 and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, but the investigation into Floyd’s death is ongoing by state prosecutors and by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Though protests were largely peaceful, small groups within the demonstrating masses have burned cars, broken into and looted businesses in cities such as Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.—all of which now have put curfews into place.
In Manhattan, protesters sprayed graffiti on a portion of two outside walls and an exterior step at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, according to the New York Post in a story May 30.
The graffiti were on one wall on Fifth Avenue and 51st Street was a profanity written twice in red letters, the Post reported. “On an adjacent wall, vandals scrawled ‘BLM’—for Black Lives Matter—along with ‘NYPDK’ in red letters and ‘No justice no peace’ in black letters. One of the stairs was spray-painted with ‘George Floyd’ in black letters.”
The graffiti have been removed.
In his final blessing at Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, Cardinal Dolan called on the Holy Spirit for gifts of “reconciliation and peace and justice upon our city here in New York and upon our beloved nation in the midst of the strife and turmoil we so sadly experience.”
The Commission of Religious Leaders of New York City (CORL) issued a statement May 31 on the death of George Floyd.
“The Book of Ecclesiastes teaches us, ‘There is a time to be silent and a time to speak out.’ We of different faiths cannot remain silent...” said the statement signed by Cardinal Dolan, the commission’s chairman; Rev. Dr. A.R. Bernard Sr., president; Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, vice president, and members.
“The pursuit of justice is a fundamental tenet of our respective religious traditions, and thus we stand together to declare that all life is sacred, and all people are equal before the law in a democratic society…
“We often speak of ‘thoughts and prayers,’ the statement concluded. “We will offer our many prayers of healing, but we need not only serious thoughts but also firm action as we work together with all members of our community to find that critical cure for human hatred.”
In Louisville, Ky., windows of Cathedral of the Assumption and its offices facing South Fifth Street were covered with plywood as a precaution May 30 after a second day of peaceful protests turned to violence and vandalism overnight.
Protesters broke three windows in the cathedral rectory—where Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and Father Michael Wimsatt, pastor, reside—at about midnight during a May 29 demonstration that began peacefully that afternoon. Those windows also were covered with plywood.
The protests were sparked by the deaths of Louisville emergency medical worker Breonna Taylor and George Floyd of Minneapolis.
Breonna Taylor, 26, was shot to death March 13 by Louisville Metro Police when officers entered her home in plain clothes on a “no-knock warrant,” meaning they could enter her home without identifying themselves or knocking. Thinking they were being robbed, Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired at the officers, The Associated Press reported. Ms. Taylor, who was African American, was shot eight times. The FBI is investigating.
Also, in February, 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.
Archbishop Gomez’s May 31 statement followed a joint statement from the chairmen of seven USCCB committees issued late May 29. The committees include the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, the Subcommittee on African American Affairs and the pro-life, domestic policy, cultural diversity, ecumenical and interreligious affairs, and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development committees.
The committee chairmen said they “are broken-hearted, sickened and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes...This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.”
In his statement, Archbishop Gomez said he is praying for Floyd and his loved ones, “and on behalf of my brother bishops, I share the outrage of the black community and those who stand with them in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and across the country.”
“The cruelty and violence he suffered does not reflect on the majority of good men and women in law enforcement, who carry out their duties with honor,” the archbishop said. “We know that. And we trust that civil authorities will investigate his killing carefully and make sure those responsible are held accountable.”
The protests that are ongoing in many U.S. cities “reflect the justified frustration and anger of millions of our brothers and sisters who even today experience humiliation, indignity, and unequal opportunity only because of their race or the color of their skin,” Archbishop Gomez said. “It should not be this way in America. Racism has been tolerated for far too long in our way of life.”
But he called the violence of recent nights “self-destructive and self-defeating.”
“Legitimate protests should not be exploited by persons who have different values and agendas. Burning and looting communities, ruining the livelihoods of our neighbors, does not advance the cause of racial equality and human dignity,” he said.
“We should not let it be said that George Floyd died for no reason,” Archbishop Gomez said. “We should honor the sacrifice of his life by removing racism and hate from our hearts and renewing our commitment to fulfill our nation’s sacred promise—to be a beloved community of life, liberty and equality for all.” —CNS