By Francesca Merlo
The murder of George Floyd has brought “many emotions” into people’s minds and hearts, according to Bishop Shelton Fabre, Chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.
“There is naturally a broken heartedness and a sadness”, he says, which includes “a righteous outrage and a righteous anger” manifested at the fact that we continue to struggle with a loss of lives as a consequence of racism.
George Floyd was an African-American man who was killed last week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by a white American police officer who kept his knee pressed on his neck for almost 9 minutes.
The need to respond
Speaking to Vatican News’ Devin Watkins, Bishop Fabre says it is “unbelievable” that we have witnessed the death of another African-American male who was in police custody. He says it another example of disregard for the dignity of another person who was pleading to breathe.
“Not having that responded to is just beyond belief,” says Bishop Fabre.
According to Bishop Fabre, this killing has brought many people to ask themselves what they can do to help heal racism.
“People want to do something”, he says. They want to help. “Within all of that pain, and all of that struggle, and all of that outrage, and all that righteous anger”, there are also people constantly asking themselves ‘what can I do?’”
Some, he says, are “examining their own hearts, guided by the Holy Spirit.”
An end to riots and destruction
This tragedy has led to widespread civil unrest, says Bishop Fabre.
Along with peaceful protests, the US has seen days of riots and destruction of property. Bishop Fabre says these are actions that the Bishops do not support and “call for an end to”.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic has added to some of the frustration and anger, Bishop Fabre stresses that the root of the problem is “something that we in the United States have been struggling with since the birth of our nation: racism. Thinking that people who are of a different race – people of colour – are less than me because of their race”.
A history of inadequately addressing racism
He explains that he does not want to attribute what we are seeing to the pandemic. “I don’t want to say its roots lie in this present moment. Its roots lie in a long history of our struggle to constructively and adequately address racism.”
Bishop Fabre adds that the pandemic has “revealed racial realities”.
“People of colour in this country, especially African-Americans, have been disproportionately affected by the virus because of systemic racism, by things that have placed people of colour in the position where they are.”
Systematic racism in a pandemic
He explains that many people of colour do not have health insurance, many work in the service industry, and do not have paid sick days. Many also live in conditions where several generations live together, making social distancing impossible.
Therefore, says Bishop Fabre, “the roots of the current situation do not lie only in the pandemic. They are deep, historical roots that are part of the disregard for life in this country and our inability or unwillingness to address the issue of race and racism.”
Finally, Bishop Fabre stresses that the Catholic Church in the United States does “not condone violence” but rather calls for peaceful protest.
“A lot of attention is being given right now to a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King”, says Bishop Fabre. It says that a riot is the language of the unheard.
“While we certainly condemn the violence of riots”, concludes Bishop Fabre, “we understand the frustration and the outrage of people who are also engaging in peaceful protest to attempt to get people to hear them.”