Leaders of the US bishops’ conference responded to the killing of an African American man in Minneapolis this week by stressing that the fight to eradicate racism is a pro-life issue.
“As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue,” they said in a May 29 statement.
“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,” the bishops said.
“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.”
The statement was released by Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee against racism; Archbishop Nelson Pérez of Philadelphia, chair of the cultural diversity committee; Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, head of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chair of the pro-life committee; Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, head of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell of Los Angeles, chair of the Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago, chair of the Subcommittee on African American Affairs.
The bishops responded to the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody this week. Footage of the incident circulated widely on the internet. It showed Floyd, who is black, subdued and laying on his stomach, saying repeatedly, “I cannot breathe” and groaning as a police officer knelt on his neck for almost eight minutes, and other officers stood nearby and watched.
Floyd was taken to a local hospital, where he died shortly later. His death has prompted protests in numerous cities, including rioting and looting in some parts of Minneapolis.
After widespread protest, former police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on May 29. The officers present at Floyd’s arrest were fired from the Minneapolis police force.
In their statement, the bishops said they were “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,” they said. “This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.”
The bishops called for non-violent protests, while acknowledging that people 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,” they said.
Catholics must fight indifference surrounding the issue of racism and speak up to fight it, the bishops said. They pointed to their most recent pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts,” which calls for greater engagement on the issue.
The bishops encouraged Americans to encounter people of different cultural backgrounds and seek greater understanding and unity.
“Such encounters will start to bring about the needed transformation of our understanding of true life, charity, and justice in the United States,” they said.