Demonstrators have come out in large numbers across the United States to protest against the death of George Floyd, an African-American man, while in police custody.
Video footage shows officers restraining Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis, with a white police officer kneeling on his neck for nearly 9 minutes.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, spoke to Devin Watkins about the situation.
Below is a transcript of the interview:
Q: Anti-racism protests have spread far and wide across the United States over the past week. Demonstrators are denouncing the killing of George Floyd, an African-American, at the hands of a white police officer. As the head of the Vatican office dedicated to promoting human development, what are your thoughts on the situation?
This is a march against the presence of racism. Incidentally, this is a social phenomenon that is not limited to the US. There was apartheid in South Africa, a caste system in other parts of the world, and the treatment of aboriginal populations. So, it’s a very widely diffused social manifestation.
For us as a Church, it goes against the basic thing we believe about the human person right from Creation. We are created in the image and likeness of God. Every person is imbued with human dignity that is precious in the sight of God, which doesn’t come from any human person.
And that’s what we are called to do: simply to recognize that and to promote it.
When we have situations that go radically against human dignity, that stymy it or kill it, it becomes a big source of concern. It is in this context that the President of the US Bishops’ Conference, reflecting on this situation, says that the riots in US cities reflect the justified frustration of millions of brothers and sisters who, even today, experience humiliation, indignity, unequal opportunity only because of the color of their skin.
As a Church, we would want to affirm the dignity of all humans, created in the image and likeness of God. In the Scriptures, after God created the human person, two things happened, all in the negative. First, there was disobedience of God’s word. The second was the killing of a brother. The first instance of violence in the human person is the killing of a brother. The issue of racism is that we create differences in diversity when it is supposed to be enriching. But for one reason or another, not all forms of differences are tolerable to the human person.
Q: The Bishops of the United States say George Floyd’s killing was a sin that cries out to heaven for justice. They urge Americans to get to the long-standing roots of the problem of racism. How would you encourage those efforts?
The killing of another person does not only diminish our humanity, our human family but is a cry to God for healing and justice. And if it is a cry for justice, it is a cry for a very positive virtue.
Justice is actually the mending of relationships, the restoration of ties. In a situation like this, the cry for justice means the cry against what hurts brotherhood, what keeps brotherhood from happening.
This is a very widespread and diffused problem in society, so going to racism’s roots means we need to reeducation in the sense of humanity, the sense of what the human family is all about. We share the same dignity bestowed on us by God, created in His image and likeness. And we are different.
Q: Some of the protests have unfortunately turned violent. But even George Floyd’s brother says the anger needs to be channeled into non-violent civil action. What is the Church’s position on the unrest?
The Church cannot help but laud the position of George Floyd’s brother, and would probably go one step further. In the United States where the local church is calling for this non-violent type of approach.
The United States has a long history of non-violent demonstrations. Martin Luther King led a lot of them and they were non-violent because they were well-planned and they had a leader. A leader who could instill his sense of non-violence in all who followed him. What we witness in these days is a spontaneous eruption of people’s anger and sentiment against everything that is happening.
I however would go one step further and add to the call for non-violence also the call to forgiveness.
In the present situation of the death of George Floyd, no amount of demonstration, anger, or frustration can bring him back. There is only one thing that can be useful to George right now has he appears before God. It is the forgiveness of his killers. Just as Jesus did.
I don’t know how much a Christian George Floyd was but I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to extend our sentiment in that regard.
I would add to the call of non-violence also the call to forgiveness. This, I think, is the way we can dignify the memory of George Floyd.
I would humbly throw in the following suggestion. In the many cities of the United States that have erupted in violence, I would enjoin the bishops, priests, pastors, and leaders of various communities to plan some sort of ecumenical, interreligious event. It could take place in some open park, but all people could be brought together to pray. The one thing that George Floyd needs at this moment is prayer. Prayer as he goes to stand before God.
As a Catholic Church, that’s what we can do: pray for George now. And it would be great if there could be some organization of a big prayer event to bring people together. It would give them the chance to express their pent-up anger, but in a way that is wholesome, in a way that is religious, in a way that is healing.