A protester stands in front of a Florida State Troopers line during a rally in Miami on May 31 in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. (Photo: AFP)
The US Catholic bishops say they "are 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. This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion," they said in a May 29 statement about the May 25 death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
In recent weeks, 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. In March, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African-American woman, died at the hands of white police offers when they entered her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky.
"Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue to be bandied about when convenient," the bishops said. "It is a real and present danger that must be met head on."
"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. We serve a God of love, mercy and justice."
"Indifference is not an option," they emphasized and stated "unequivocally" that "racism is a life issue."
The statement was issued by the chairmen of seven committees of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Floyd, 46, was arrested by police 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 eight minutes. A now 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 next day, hundreds of people protested at the intersection where police officers subdued Floyd, demanding justice for him and the arrest of the four officers involved. The officers were fired May 26 and as of midday May 29 local prosecutors filed criminal charges against at least one of the now former officers. The one seen putting his knee on Floyd's neck, identified as Derek Chauvin, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
The federal Justice Department promised a "robust" investigation into the circumstances surrounding Floyd's death.
Protests in Minneapolis have turned to violent demonstrations and lasted several days, prompting governor Tim Walz to bring in the National Guard on May 29. The protests sparked similar rioting in at least a dozen US cities, including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, New York, Louisville and Columbus, Ohio.
The bishops in their statement pointed to their "Open Wide Our Hearts" pastoral against racism approved by the body of bishops in 2018. In it, they said: "For people of color some interactions with police can be fraught with fear and even danger. People of good conscience must never turn a blind eye when citizens are being deprived of their human dignity and even their lives."
In their May 29 statement, the committee chairmen called for an end to the violence taking place in the wake of the tragedy in Minneapolis but also said they "stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged."
They joined with Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis in praying for the repose of the soul of Floyd "and all others who have lost their lives in a similar manner."
In anticipation of the feast of Pentecost on May 31, they called on all Catholics "to pray and work toward a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit" and pray "to rid ourselves of the harm that bias and prejudice cause."
"We call upon Catholics to pray to the Holy Spirit for the spirit of truth to touch the hearts of all in the United States and to come down upon our criminal justice and law enforcement systems," the bishops said, urging every Catholic, regardless of ethnicity, to "beg God to heal our deeply broken view of each other, as well as our deeply broken society."