By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
US Bishops are calling for racial healing and reconciliation in the wake of a verdict in the trial of a police officer involved in the death of 46-year-old George Floyd.
On Tuesday, a jury found former Minnesota police officer, Derek Chauvin, guilty of the murder of African-American George Floyd, on a Minneapolis street last year.
On 25 May, 2020, Chauvin was filmed kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest. The footage sparked outrage and led to widespread protests against racism and the excessive use of force by police officers.
Mr. Chauvin, 45, was found guilty on three charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter. His bail was revoked and he was placed in custody. Sentencing is likely to occur in upcoming months and Chauvin could spend years in jail.
Following the Tuesday verdict, Bishop Shelton Fabre, USCCB Ad Hoc Committee Chairman against Racism, and Archbishop Paul Coakley, Committee Chairman on Domestic Justice and Human Development issued a statement.
Human life is sacred
The Bishops noted that the death of George Floyd highlighted and amplified the need to see “the sacredness in all people, but especially those who have been historically oppressed.”
“Whatever the stage of human life, it not only matters, it is sacred,” the Bishops stressed.
The Bishops also emphasized the urgent need for racial healing and reconciliation in light of the social injustices that still exist in the country and the existing division about how to right those wrongs.
Joint efforts needed
Concluding their statement, the Bishops prayed that through the revelation of so much pain and sadness, God may grant the strength to cleanse the land of the “evil of racism which also manifests in ways that are hardly ever spoken, ways that never reach the headlines.”
They also called for joint efforts to peacefully rebuild “what hatred and frustration have torn down,” noting that this is the true call of a disciple and the real work of restorative justice.
Anger and hatred cannot prevail
Also in light of the verdict, the Minnesota Catholic Conference has called for compassion, reconciliation, forgiveness and peace amid questions about the impact of racism in society and culture which have been brought to the fore by the death of George Floyd.
In their Tuesday statement, the Bishops lamented the “sad and undeniable truth” that racial discrimination and prejudice impacts the lives and livelihoods of millions of citizens, including in criminal justice matters, and in how individuals are treated by police and courts systems, as well as in the rates of incarceration.
Nonetheless, they insist that “we cannot permit anger or hatred to prevail” in the ongoing thirst for righteousness, especially as the violent protests of the past months have done little to improve the lives of people of color living in poverty, or address their basic needs.
Jesus, model of reconciliation
Holding up the image of the crucified Christ, the Bishops noted that Our Lord “gave his life to bring eternal justice, reconciliation, and salvation to all peoples,” thus witnessing “to the healing power of forgiveness, compassion, reconciliation, and peace.” In imitating Him, we seek to “make a gift of our lives for peace and justice for all peoples.”
To heal the wounds of racism, therefore, “we must open our hearts to allow God’s amazing grace to be the light that fills us and the light that we share with our neighbors,” the Minnesota Bishops said.
The Church’s involvement in social and racial justice
The Bishops went on to reaffirm the Church’s commitment to changing hearts and minds, moving the conversations about race towards practical, non-violent solutions through teaching the truth of human dignity, charity to people of different races, and advocating for the most vulnerable.
At the same time, the Bishops challenged the assertions that the US is “fundamentally” racist. They rather acknowledge the need to do more in addition to the great strides that the nation has made in addressing historic evils and wrongdoing.
“To deny or distort the truth about our history and the goals set and achieved, particularly by black Americans, misrepresents the past and dishonors their sacrifices while also rhetorically disenfranchising and disempowering the heirs to the fruit of their efforts who are currently engaged in restorative justice efforts,” the Bishops said.
Further inviting all people of faith to come together to speak in a “civil and charitable manner,” the Minnesota Catholic Conference restated its commitment to make communities and apostolates places of reconciliation and racial justice on the path toward fostering a “justice rooted in our common identity as children of God.”
“There are no victims and no oppressors in the Kingdom of God,” the Bishops affirmed. “For our children’s sake, let us embrace our true identity, without waiting another day.”