Earlier this week in the Hennepin County Courthouse, in the state of Minnesota, a jury found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts of murdering Mr. George Floyd. In this moment, we share in the relief and satisfaction of Mr. Floyd’s family and loved ones, and the communities around the world who stood up in support of their struggle. We stand with all those who, for the past year, have insisted that Mr. Floyd’s humanity and basic human dignity be recognized and that Mr. Chauvin be held accountable for his actions. We share in the joy of this rare verdict which acknowledges the value of a Black life taken by a person in power.
Justice means recognizing the infinite value of Mr. Floyd’s life in the eyes of God. Justice means holding accountable those who wield power. Justice means rejecting the systemic violence that has been employed to justify the oppression and murder of Black people in this country.
As such, we also recognize that justice has not been achieved. Justice requires more.
In our Statement of Principles issued in anticipation of the 2020 elections, we wrote:
The U.S. criminal justice system upholds and perpetuates a racial caste and economic disparities by criminalizing poverty, addiction, and mental illness. Jim Crow laws morphed into the targeted mass incarceration of Black people and other people of color, while racialized migrants fleeing violence and oppression fed by U.S. foreign policy are caged in prisons (‘detention centers’) at the U.S. Southern border and other prisons around the country. As a community of conscience, we stand together to support the creation and implementation of restorative justice practices rooted in respect for human dignity, healing, accountability, repair, and restoration…
Justice ultimately requires dismantling police brutality and state-sanctioned violence, as historian and author Khalil Gibran Muhammad pointed out in an interview shortly after the verdict was delivered.
“[W]e know that while the prosecution was performing in such a way to make the case that Derek Chauvin was a rogue actor, the truth is that policing should have been on trial in that case. And we don’t have a mechanism in our current system of laws in the way that we treat individual offenses to have that accountability and justice delivered. And the reason being, of course, is that our policing system was never really built to deal with individuals. It was built to control groups, and those groups ranging from Indigenous people during the period of colonization and the early 19th century, and, of course, for the vast majority of people of African descent in this country, for 250 years, in the context of chattel slavery, was meant simply to protect an economic system where people had been defined as property, and if that property decided to steal itself, there would be deputized, armed white men of every class and category in the society to ensure that they would not escape. … And that history has never left us. That history is still with us.”
While the verdict in this case presents a moment when we can breathe a sigh of relief, it must be a moment that will serve to energize us so that we can continue doing the work that brings us closer to justice. We must intentionally work to uproot the systemic racism that is embedded in our educational, healthcare, political, religious and legal systems, and in the United States’ cultural touchstones including within our own faith community.
Pax Christi is committed to build and support the co-creation of systems that uphold the dignity of ALL. We dream about and work for a world with mechanisms that allow us to keep each other accountable in ways that are conducive to the common good and fully reject the throwaway culture which seeks to hide the structural origins of injustice.
Within our own Pax Christi movement, white Catholics need to listen to and follow the lead of their Catholic brothers and sisters of color in order to understand their pain, fear and frustrations. White Catholics need to use their power and privilege to amplify the voices of their sisters and brothers of color, to challenge white fragility within the Church, and to commit themselves to become allies in our common struggle to build a more just social order. Catholics of all races need to come together to overcome poverty, homelessness, mass incarceration, and the hopelessness that exist in too many communities across our nation.
Our commitment requires action — be that joining local, national and/or international efforts, extending monetary support, self education and reflection on root causes, following the leadership of those directly impacted, any and all efforts which lead us to answer the call of Pope Paul VI: “If you want peace, work for justice.”