What’s happening to us, America?
The outrageous killing of George Floyd, a black man, at the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer, and the resulting violent protests that swept cities across the country dealt another heavy blow to a nation already reeling from a raging coronavirus pandemic and a shattered economy.
The Floyd killing, which shocked and horrified the nation, brought together Americans of all races and political ideologies in a unified cry for justice and reform.
We hope and pray that the violent and destructive reaction from a nation on edge—like the widespread mayhem and looting that devastated shopping districts in parts of Manhattan and the Bronx Monday night—will not deter us from addressing the systemic racism and inequality that came into sharp focus with Floyd’s needless death.
Cardinal Dolan, in televised Pentecost Sunday remarks from St. Patrick’s Cathedral—which was marred by protesters’ graffiti the day before —called on the Holy Spirit for “the 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 that we so sadly experience.”
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are surely needed here in New York, and we may have already experienced that gift in the Bronx.
Early Tuesday morning, awakening to ransacked stores, overturned and burned trash cans and piles of broken glass on their streets, residents of the hard-hit Fordham and Burnside neighborhoods were out early, masked and gloved against the pandemic, cleaning up the streets of their shattered communities.
Meanwhile, we further New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call to community leaders, and especially clergy and religious leaders, to “stand up for peace” and to prayerfully guide the city toward healing and reconciliation on every level in the wake of the George Floyd killing and its aftermath.
The May 25 incident, in which an officer held his knee to the handcuffed Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes while fellow officers stood by, was carried out in full public view on a city street and seen by millions in a video posted online by a bystander.
Floyd, 46, was picked up on suspicion of forgery and pinned down on the street while repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.” The officer who pinned him down was immediately fired, along with the three others involved, and has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter; the other officers also may face charges in the ongoing investigation.
The Minneapolis tragedy came within weeks after Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old black man, was chased down and fatally shot while jogging on a Georgia street; three white men are facing murder charges in the incident, which was also captured on video. In March, EMT worker and aspiring nurse Breonna Taylor, 26, was shot eight times and killed in Louisville, Ky., by police who barged into her home in the middle of the night searching for a drug suspect.
The chairmen of eight committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a May 29 statement after the Floyd death that they are “broken-hearted, sickened and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes.”
We are too.
We also agree with the bishops that “indifference is not an option” in battling racism, which they called “a real and present danger that must be met head on.”
Violent protests that escalate into riots, with looting, arson and destruction of property are not, however, the way to achieve that goal.
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, president of the USCCB, called the nationwide violence “self-destructive and self-defeating,” calling instead for renewed focus on “the prize of true and lasting change.”
Peaceful protests, demonstrations and other forms of activism, including political activism, are approaches that can take us toward the equitable society that remains the American ideal.
Community involvement is another approach, as is prayer and a recommitment to the pro-life cause that respects all human life.
“As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference,” the bishops’ committee chairmen 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.”
Americans must never forget that.