About your last will and testament…
April 28, 2021
Living the Resurrection – betrayal to forgiveness
April 28, 2021

If we are quiet, we are complicit

By Rev Mike James, a former general secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference and a contributor to Guyana’s Catholic Standard

Following the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who on April 20 was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, Black Catholic US leaders said it’s a first step in both the country and the Church’s long overdue efforts for racial justice.

“It’s a small start,” said Ralph McCloud, the director of the US bishops’ domestic anti-poverty programme, Catholic Campaign for Human Development. “But I can’t help but think what it took for us to get here.”

“Millions of people had to see the video of Floyd’s killing and then take to the streets in protest for many Americans to see how the systems are skewed against people of colour,” McCloud was quoted by the National Catholic Reporter as saying. “So many other trials that are looming and so many other trials that have passed didn’t have the luxury of this kind of exposure.”

He said he hopes the national attention of the trial causes a reckoning within Catholic parishes, diocesan offices, chanceries and across the board. “If we’re quiet, we’re complicit,” he said, adding that Catholic institutions need to ask themselves what “makes people disregard and disrespect human life because of their race?”

In a statement carried in full by the Catholic Standard (April 23 issue), the US Catholic Bishops prayed “through the revelation of so much pain and sadness, that God strengthens us to cleanse our land of the evil of racism which also manifests in ways that are hardly ever spoken, ways that never reach the headlines. Let us then join in the hard work of peacefully rebuilding what hatred and frustration have torn down.”

On April 20, even before the jurors reached their historic verdict, US President Biden called the family of George Floyd “to check in with them and also share that the family was in his prayers.”

In a video message at the funeral of Floyd last June, Biden said, “I grew up with Catholic social doctrine, which taught me that faith without works is dead, and you will know us by what we do,” lamenting that there is still much work to be done “to ensure that all men and women are not only created equal but are treated equally.”

Immediately after the verdict he again called Floyd’s family in support and to promise his utmost to pass legislation to make police officers accountable for unlawful killings.

Pope Francis himself had twice spoken out on Floyd’s killing, saying last May that he was praying for the repose of Floyd’s soul, and for “all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism”.

In a follow-up interview, he praised the “many people who otherwise did not know each other took to the streets to protest, united by a healthy indignation”.

Jesuit US Villanova University black historian Shannen Dee Williams said that while Catholics must first “continue to pray for the soul of George Floyd, his family and all victims of state violence,” she said “it would also be wonderful if all Catholics committed to becoming anti-racists and doing the hard work to actualise true racial justice, reparation.”

“It is also important to remember that this saga is not over,” she added. “The presiding judge will sentence Chauvin in eight weeks. We must continue to pray that our legal system will hold Chauvin fully accountable for murdering another human being.”

“We must also continue to work to reform, and if necessary, dismantle the systems of power that produce the racial inequities and inequalities that we see and experience in policing, health care, education, housing, voting access and life outcomes,” she added. “A more just and equitable society and world is possible. Until then, the fight continues.”


Cynical verdict

Many including my wife Maria and I could not bear to watch any of the coverage of the three-week trial, expecting it would end, as all the others before, in a cynical verdict against justice and accountability. We were not alone.

CNN reported on Tuesday, April 20 that whites in Minneapolis having all seen the shocking video said they were expecting a guilty verdict; blacks on the other hand hoped but had no confidence in a judgement for justice.

On camera, a black woman hesitated when CNN asked her whether she was surprised by the verdict. “I would not have been at all surprised if the verdict had not been guilty,” she confessed. So did local authorities. Thousands of national guards and local police had been mobilised ready to control the protests that would have followed a not guilty verdict.

Among a number of actions steps for combatting racism in the country, the US Bishops Commission on Racism advocates: “Create various large and small group opportunities for family and community members to process their feelings in the midst of news and commentary about vulnerable populations and law enforcement. Encourage participants to reflect or share their own upbringing regarding comments in the home, from parents and individuals, media, and entertainment, even practices of the Church about the merits or demerits of certain groups of people made to be “the other.”

Ask, ‘How have I knowingly or unconsciously made this formation part of my world view? Where could I have spoken up but didn’t?’.

Is anything like this needed, or applicable in our own Guyana?