Category Archives: Racism

NETWORK Urges Biden-Harris Administration to Address Suffering in our Nation

NETWORK Urges Biden-Harris Administration to Address the Suffering in our Nation

Work for Racial Justice, Respect Immigrant Rights, and Strengthen Democracy in the First 100 Days
Caraline Feairheller
December 19, 2020

As President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris prepare to take office, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the ways our nation fails to structure a society that cares for those most in need. As both a public health crisis and an economic one, those most disproportionately affected have been communities of color and the poor. Over the years, the willful dismantling of social safety nets combined with the lack of preparedness for the pandemic have resulted in job loss, evictions, and food insecurity for millions of people.

While the injustice inherit in our system cannot be solved in the first 100 days of a new administration, a conscious commitment to alleviating the suffering can result in policies that prioritize the common good and support people and families at the economic margins.

We urge the Biden-Harris Administration to prioritize and commit themselves to systemic change in all branches of government in order to alleviate the harm brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic through the use of legislative action, such as:

  • Implementing a 6-month moratorium on forecloses and evictions.
  • Providing additional cash relief payments.
  • Creating a White House Racial Equity Office within the Executive Office of the President.
  • Require federal agencies serving populations underrepresented on voter rolls to provide voter registration services to their clients.
  • And more

In addition to these COVID-19 priorities, we call on the Biden-Harris administration to take immediate action to advance racial justice, protect immigrant rights, and strengthen democracy.

 

Download the full list of NETWORK priorities for the Biden-Harris transition.

The Past, Present, and Future of Black Catholics in the United States

The Past, Present, and Future of Black Catholics in the United States

By Joan Neal
November 30, 2020

Black Catholic history is Catholic Church history in this country, although the Church has failed to teach this foundational story. Well before 1619, there were Black Catholics on American soil, beginning with four soldiers who arrived in 1543 in what is now Florida, Texas and Arkansas. They were all Spaniards. Three were white and one, Esteban (Stephen), was Black – and a slave. All were Catholics when they arrived. Clearly then, not all Catholics who crossed the Atlantic were white.

A Spanish settlement was established in St. Augustine, Florida that included fellow Spaniards, Native American, and Black people, slave and free. In The History of Black Catholics in the United States, Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. wrote that the community and the church of the same name, became the first and oldest home for Black Catholics in the United States.* Over time, archeological excavations in the areas around St. Augustine have uncovered sacramental registers and parochial records for the period 1565-1763. These are the oldest ecclesial records in the United States, and include irrefutable documentation of Black people in the community. Long before the Mayflower arrived in 1620, Black Catholics were in the New World.

Over time, the Catholic Church grew among Black Americans, especially in the South. Despite the persistence of racism and white supremacy, Black people, slave and free, found their “church home” in the theology, ecclesiology and sacramental life of Catholicism. Families passed down the faith from generation to generation, resulting in many Black “cradle Catholics.” The Church evangelized in the community, becoming one of the only avenues for education for Black children.

Through slavery, emancipation, reconstruction and civil rights, Black Americans continued to embrace Catholicism. They brought their faith with them during the Great Migration (1916-1970) from the South to North and by 1970 there were more Black Catholics in Chicago than in New Orleans or Baltimore. But, just as in the South, Northern white Catholics failed to accept them, abandoned their urban parishes as Black people moved in, and fled to the suburbs.

Today, there are more than 3 million U.S. Black Catholics (4% of the Catholic population), 7 active Black Bishops (3.2% of Bishops); 250 Black priests (1% of the nation’s priests) and 1 Cardinal, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC who just became the first Black Cardinal in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

It is a testament to the depth of faith, moral fortitude and commitment to the institution that Black Catholics have remained in this Church that has never recognized their history as its own. But the day of reckoning is coming, when the Catholic Church in America will have to face its own participation in and complicity with the sin of racism, make a sincere act of contrition and begin the arduous process of reparation for the harm done to one of the oldest group of Catholics in this country.

 

 

 

*Cyprian Davis, O.S.B., The History of Black Catholics in the United States, (New York, The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1990), 28-31

When You Say

When You Say

Leslye Colvin
August 12, 2020

When you say,
“I’m not racist,”
you deny the complexity
of a system built on the racist ideas
born of white supremacy.

When you say,
“I don’t see color,”
you do not understand that
making judgements based
on color is the problem,
not seeing color.

When you say,
“I was taught to treat everyone the same,”
you deny the limitations of your being kind
when the system denies my dignity.

When you say,
“But, I’m a Christian,”
you deny the whitening of Jesus’ body
and the distortion of his Gospel
for economic gain through
the genocide of indigenous people,
the enslavement of Africans,
and other atrocities against
people of color.

When you say,
“My child is Black,”
you conflate your love for one person
with a love for all.

When you say,
“My family never enslaved people”
you deny how the injustices of slavery
were transformed to perpetuate
your illusion of white supremacy.

When you say,
“My ancestors were wronged for being Irish or Italian,”
you deny that people of Irish and Italian ancestry
now identify as white.

When you say,
“My ancestors arrived after slavery,”
you deny that their white skin
privileges you today.

When you say,
“The Constitution says all men are created equal,”
you deny ongoing legal battles to make it realized.

When you say,
“All lives matter,”
you deny our lived experience.

When you say,
“I want to learn,”
you take a step forward.

When you say,
“I want to be an ally,”
the hard work begins.

Leslye Colvin is the Communications Coordinator for Gathering for Mission, a project of Catholic Committee of the South inspired by Pope Francis that provides practicums in dialogue in dioceses across the country. She is also a member of the editorial team for the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Daily Meditations, and a member of the NETWORK Board. This poem was originally published on Leslye’s blog, Leslye’s Labyrinth, www.leslyeslabyrinth.blogspot.com.

This story was published in the Third Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue.

Grief, Anger, and Sacred Imagination

Grief, Anger, and Sacred Imagination

Confronting Injustices in Our Midst

Protesters outside the White House in the days following the murder of George Floyd.

The litany of horrors in the last few months has at times overwhelmed us. The murder of innocent Black people and police attacks on peaceful protesters. The pandemic and the failure of the Trump administration to engage and lead. The necessary closing of business to protect each other from the disease and the resulting economic crisis. The effort to respond to the needs of our most vulnerable people brought Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate together for a brief moment as they crafted emergency legislation to respond. More action is needed though, to begin the healing in our nation.

As weeks have gone on, we have learned how the Black and Latinx communities have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Wisconsin, Black people represent 6% of the population and nearly 40% of COVID-19 fatalities. In Kansas, 6% of the population is Black and yet Black people account for more than 30% of COVID-19 deaths. These are the communities who do not have the opportunity to work from home. The Labor Department reported 30% of white workers could work from home in 2017 and 2018, while only 20% of Black workers and only 16% of Latinx workers could do so. The front line workers who work in grocery stores, drive buses, work in hospitals are the most exposed, and their families and communities have paid a high price because of that. Native American communities have some of the highest COVID-19 rates per capita in the country. At the same time, tax revenues from tribal businesses used to operate hospitals and clinics have dropped to nearly zero.

Then we have the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police and all of the reality of centuries of our original sin of racism. I don’t want to write another statement or say another lament, I want to CHANGE this behavior once and for all. Since it began tracking in 2015, the Washington Post has found that over 1,000 people are killed every year by the police and Black people, while only 13% of the population, are more than twice as likely to be a victim of police killing.

Then we have President Trump’s decision to use military force to clear peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters Lafayette Square across from the White House so he could pose for a photo holding up a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. He violated both the constitutional rights and sacred human dignity of people so he could get a photo opportunity. To me this was the ultimate exercise of authority to reinforce and flaunt his white privilege.

In our work at NETWORK, we see the structures of white supremacy that have controlled the economic reality AND the political reality in this land since before the founding of our nation. Many of you have participated in our Racial Wealth and Income Gap experience, exploring 12 federal policies that created and perpetuate the inequality in our nation. Many of you studied our Recommit to Racial Justice guide that identifies and confronts the extent of white supremacy in our society, our politics, and our economy. I know that white people, like me, have so much to learn about racism and all of the small and large ways that my actions and my decisions perpetuate racial injustice. It is not a time just to lament, however. As we approach this year’s election in the face of these challenges, we must move beyond lamentation and engage.

In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis’s Exhortation on Holiness, he calls us to a full engagement to protect the dignity of all life. In this moment in the United States, I believe that dismantling racism must be a foundational part of any pro-life agenda. He says in Paragraph 101: “We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as other look on from afar.” Even more so, we must live out the Pope’s message addressed to the people of the United States following the murder of George Floyd, “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

This leads us to our work in this 2020 election. Black lives matter, and we must examine and transform all policies and systems that deny this sacred truth. We must promote the life of all of our people by changing policing to protect Black lives. We must promote life by ensuring that everyone in our nation has access to quality health care. We must promote life by guaranteeing that all can live in dignity with a roof over their heads and enough food on their plates. We must promote life by ending the economic inequality upheld by our tax laws. We must promote life by ensuring that our immigrant siblings are welcomed and honored for their inherent dignity.

As we continue sheltering in place, we cannot stay silent or confused. We are called in this time to live the Gospel call to love one another. This means pushing back against racism, facing our own complicity, speaking out to make change. The urgency of a pandemic, police violence, racism of our leaders and our systems all demand it. Let us commit ourselves to working for change. I believe that we are at a crossroads as it says in Deuteronomy 30:19:

Today, I call heaven and earth to witness, I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then so that you and your descendants may live in the love of Yahweh.

Let us commit ourselves to working for change!

This story was originally published in the Third Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue

‘Why We Can’t Wait’ Letter Urges US Congress to Pass HR 40, Reparations Bill

‘Why We Can’t Wait’ Letter Urges US Congress to Pass HR 40, Reparations Bill

NETWORK joined partner organizations in signing onto a letter sent to House leadership on July 30, 2020 in support of HR 40. The letter reads:

“Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s seminal text, “Why We Can’t Wait,” was written in 1963 and has emerged as more prescient than ever in this moment. The multi-racial, cross-generational protests across the United States have ushered in a national reckoning on structural racism—and a sea change in attitudes. A majority of people in the US support the protests and believe that racism is a serious issue in this country. We, the undersigned organizations, believe addressing it can no longer wait.

People in the US are now more eager than ever to pull back the curtain on institutions to see whether they have helped to advance or stall racial progress, and the US Congress is no exception. One bill in particular can demonstrate support for meeting this moment in a reasonable, rational, and compassionate way: House Resolution (HR) 40. We urge House and Committee leadership to bring this bill to a vote now.

The current social movement, the largest in US history, is in response to problems that are centuries in the making—issues intractably tied to the horrors of settler colonialism and the enslavement of Black people in the United States. People in the US are increasingly aware that there is no way forward from the current strife without addressing one of the nation’s most egregious violations of human rights—the institution of slavery. HR 40 would establish a commission to investigate the legacy of slavery and its ongoing harms as well as come up with proposals to Congress for redress and repair.

HR 40 is simply a first and reasonable step—it is a commitment to truth-telling, studying and coming up with ideas to treat the disease, rather than a commitment to the treatment itself. The bill has been introduced for 30 years—yet for 30 years, it has languished. If the protests have demonstrated anything, it is that action cannot wait.”

Read the full letter with signatures.

The Intersection Between the Heart of Christ and Juneteenth

The Intersection Between the Heart of Christ and Juneteenth

Leslye Colvin 
June 29, 2020

Upon hearing of a program being offered at the local cathedral that addressed poverty and the Church’s social justice teachings, I knew it was for me. Through JustFaith, I was provided insight to the heart of the Gospel of Christ as taught by the Catholic Church. Having entered this church as a young child in an apartheid state, I had already gained a deep appreciation of Moses and the Exodus from the Black Protestant Church. I also recognized the strong similarities between the enslavement and subsequent struggles of the Hebrew people, and those of us as African-Americans. The connection and assurance of God’s presence in the midst of ineffable suffering was as certain as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

My family entered the Catholic Church amidst the racial segregation of the mid-1960s. While the priests and parishioners welcomed us, I know our lived experience was not shared by all African-Americans, not even for those who identify as cradle Catholics. It was years later in JustFaith that I saw my families experience of welcome as a clear example of the Church’s social teaching on human dignity. This was transformative as I began to feel a pull towards a professional path guided by these principles. However, before that would unfold, the economy crashed and I became a ninety-niner, one who who received 99 weeks of unemployment benefits during the Great Recession.

An acquaintance called to ask if I would be interested in an internship with the archdiocese through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a unit of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that addressed domestic poverty. I promptly completed and submitted my application. A short time later, I was offered the position. While it was part-time and with no benefits, it was an opportunity to move beyond unemployment  and to do work that resonated with me. The new path was appearing.

By the time my internship began, there had been two significant changes that were causes for concern but I did not have the luxury of walking away from the opportunity.  My first surprise was learning my acquaintance had resigned and been replaced. The second change was another reason for pause. The CCHD internship was a part of Social Justice Ministries and, in this archdiocese, functioned under Catholic Charities. With the change, the internship and Social Justice Ministries, which would become Justice and Peace Ministries, was moved to a new unit named Communications and Advocacy. The Advocacy component included Disability Ministries, Jail and Prison Ministry, and Respect Life Ministry as well as Justice and Peace.

The decision to combine Communications with Advocacy was problematic in the best of circumstances. Communications is responsible for representing the interests of the institution, primarily the archbishop and the archdiocese. Advocacy is charged with encountering those on the margins with the heart of the Gospel. There is an inherent tension between the two units requiring discernment and contemplative action from leadership.

On the first visit to my new office, I was escorted by the head of Communications and Advocacy. The short walk had only one memorable moment. For no apparent reason, I was told, “We don’t talk about liberation theology.” Not wanting to rock the boat before it left shore, I did not response. Although two weeks later, I was offered a full-time position in Justice and Peace Ministries, the director’s comment was a precursor of the challenges to come and, in time, I would begin to reclaim my voice.

How do you tell an African-American woman not to discuss liberation theology? Although the distorted slaveholder’s Christianity of the United States, present in Catholic parishes and Protestant churches, has denied it for four centuries, liberation flows through the veins of the Gospel and the heart of Christ. Jesus was a man who lived under oppression, yet his words are clear, “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives. . .”

On this Juneteenth of 2020, the nation remembers the last enslaved people of African descent who learned of their freedom in Texas more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Shamefully, the oppression of chattel slavery was replaced by the era of Jim Crow and institutionalized racism that we continue to resist as did our ancestors. As “Black Lives Matter” is proclaimed, may our nation follow the guidance of James Weldon Johnson as we “Lift ev’ry voice and sing ’til earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty.”

Leslye Colvin is the Communications Coordinator for Gathering for Mission, a project of Catholic Committee of the South inspired by Pope Francis that provides practicums in dialogue in dioceses across the country. She is also a member of the editorial team for the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Daily Meditations, and a member of the NETWORK Board. This blog was originally published on Leslye’s blog, Leslye’s Labyrinth, www.leslyeslabyrinth.blogspot.com.

The Seventh Anniversary of Shelby: A Reminder of the Fight to Restore Voting Rights Protections

The Seventh Anniversary of Shelby: A Reminder of the Fight to Restore Voting Rights Protections

Sr. Quincy Howard, OP and Eva Sirotic
June 25, 2020

This week marks the seven-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The Shelby decision, which was passed on June 25, 2013, gutted key protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), leading to states and localities across the country to enact restrictive voting laws, disenfranchising millions voters in the United States. For six years, civil rights organizations have been fighting back against these discriminatory laws. We need Congress to restore the VRA to its full strength to ensure that all eligible voters have equal access to the ballot and that every vote counts.

The ideal of “one person, one vote” is central to our understanding of democracy in the United States, but the reality in our country falls short. While the legal discrimination that prevented people of color from voting for hundreds of years is no longer in place, today a new combination of restrictive standards and requirements keep voters from exercising their right to vote. Whether implementing voter ID requirements, purging voter rolls, restricting early voting, or closing polling locations, state-level election laws can make it considerably harder, if not impossible for many eligible citizens to vote. Furthermore, these requirements have a disproportionate impact, often by design, on low-income and voters of color who are less likely to have flexible schedules, access to transportation, or a government photo ID.

Many of these tactics are familiar to communities of color, but ever since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 there had been an effective mechanism in place to apply federal oversight of potential voting rights violations. Specifically, Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) used a formula determined by the VRA in 1965 to identify jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination and subject them to federal preclearance requirements prior to implementing any changes in voter registration or casting of ballots. In 2013, however, the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision stripped the VRA of this preclearance mechanism—deeming the formula outdated—and opened the door for states to pass more restrictive voting standards with impunity.

Since the Shelby ruling, 23 states have freely implemented more restrictive voting laws and conducted elections accordingly. The only recourse left is under Section 2 of the VRA—to challenge these laws after the fact. Meanwhile, the resulting voter disenfranchisement has already taken place and the results of potentially rigged elections stand. Accordingly, unfair elections around the nation have begun to resemble a discriminatory game of wack-a-mole: lawsuits of voter discrimination have quadrupled in the five years since the Shelby decision. Expensive and slow-moving litigation is an untenable approach to reinstating fair elections; and Section 2 offers no remedy for the impacts of disenfranchisement.

NETWORK is calling on the Senate to pass legislation that restores the Voting Rights Act and provides critical emergency election funding to prepare for this November’s election. In 2020, with COVID-19, we are still seeing the implications of voter protection inequities. Congressional failure to address the Shelby ruling in 2013 combined with a global pandemic are wreaking havoc on our elections. A series of botched primaries in the midst of a deadly virus has revealed how a racist system that fails to protect voting rights ultimately harms the entire nation.

The debacles we saw in the Wisconsin primary, and subsequently in Georgia, are warnings for the upcoming general election. While it may be hard to distinguish motives—suppression, intimidation, incapacity or indifference—it is clear that a racist system enabled these outcomes. Protections written into the Voting Rights Act—and gutted in the Shelby ruling—were designed to avoid exactly this type of disenfranchisement. H.R. 4, a bill that would restore these protections, passed the House last year but languished in the Senate for months prior to the pandemic. Today, passage of the VRAA is more urgent than ever.

The Senate also has an obligation to provide $3.6 billion in emergency funding for state and local capacity to run fair and accessible election in a pandemic. The adjustments necessary to ensure that every eligible voter is counted in COVID-19 cost money and take time. There are only four months for states and local election officials to be ready. The Senate’s failure to act now is a dereliction of duty and risks disenfranchising millions of voters in the 2020 general election.

To learn more about the legacy of racism in our election systems, watch Suppressed: The Fight to Vote. This 37-minute film documents how the election system in Georgia failed voters at multiple stages in 2018. And please join NETWORK Lobby and the United Methodist Church on June 30th for a panel discussion about these same threats to November’s general election in COVID-19. RSVP for the discussion.

Eva Sirotic is a rising third-year at the University at Virginia majoring in Global Studies. She is passionate about issues related to social justice, particularly women’s rights and racial equality. Outside of the classroom, she works for Take Back the Night, a sexual violence prevention organization and The Fralin Museum of Art in Charlottesville, VA.

Black Lives Matter and Juneteenth

Black Lives Matter and Juneteenth

Laura Peralta-Schulte
June 19, 2020

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865

On June 19, 1865, about two months after the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Va., Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved Black people of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. Since then, Juneteenth has been a day of celebration in the Black community and grown to become the most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States.

This Juneteenth we must pause and acknowledge the immense gap between the freedom promised in 1865 and the freedom delivered. The Emancipation Proclamation formally ended slavery in the Confederate States, and later the 13th Amendment ended slavery across the United States, but white enslavers and white Union victors established new rules that intentionally limited the freedom of Black people and families for decades after that.

The new reality still allowed white former enslavers to set wage and work conditions. White structures restricted employment opportunities for Black people while creating new forms of powers to control “idleness” – an excuse police used to arrest Black people, imprison them, and force them to work for little or no wages. Newly “freed” Black people and families faced violence and terror as they attempted to leave their former enslavers. Firsthand historical accounts of formerly enslaved people recall multiple insistences of lynching and shootings. The system of slavery adapted into new systems of white control over Black people.

Still, Black families celebrated. Their joy and celebration was and continues to be an act of resistance and resilience in the face of racial oppression.

The Civil Rights movement of the 20th century and the continued fight for Black liberation against state-sanctioned oppression in this century are the continuation of century-old attempts to right the wrongs based in the United States’ original sin, the enslavement of Black people.

The forces of white supremacy and white racism are so powerful and so pervasive that we see day in and day out examples of blatant disregard for Black lives at the hands of the State police agents as well as white vigilantes seeking to assert dominance over Black lives. We see disregard for Black people’s health in hospitals, leading to higher rates of illness and death. We see disregard for Black workers who experience higher rates of unemployment and lower wages than white workers. The system was never set up to provide equity for Black Americans. We must work for radical change based in Black liberation for the good of our whole nation.

My heart breaks every day recognizing how my own behavior has contributed to Black oppression. It is long past time for white people to acknowledge how we contribute to this long-standing system, benefit from it, and have responsibility to tear it down. “All lives matter” is a slogan for those who refuse to acknowledge the unique and life-altering privileges being white provides. The privilege to have doctors take your health concerns seriously. The privilege of being able to walk by police officers without triggering their fear and a potential attack.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a holy movement calling us to affirm the life and dignity of Black people. In his life and in his death, Jesus was a member of an oppressed community, not the powerful. We cannot claim to follow the life and message of Jesus and remain silent in the face of racism today. Like the delay in emancipation for people who were enslaved in Texas in 1865, the pain and suffering of Black people in the United States has been going on far too long today.

We solemnly say the names of those we’ve lost to violence and systemic racism. We watch as our brother George Floyd died with a knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 second as he cried in vain for the breathe of life and for his dead mother. We won’t be silent anymore.

Hope grows as resistance grows. The streets across the U.S. and around the world have become alive with prophetic witness. This is church in the street, proclaiming the sacred truth, “No one is truly free until we all are free” To the Black community on this day of remembrance, I commit to working with you restructure our society to ensure equity for the Black community. To the white people marching in the streets and in virtual spaces, I see justice in your eyes. To the white Sisters and Brothers clinging to the false God of white supremacy or white silence, I call you to true discipleship.

Malcom X said, “I believe that there will be ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation.”

This Juneteenth, let us acknowledge the sinful history of slavery in our country, mourn the people harmed and killed by white violence and inhumanity, and honor the resilience of the Black community. This Juneteenth let us recommit ourselves to use our hearts, minds, and souls in the service of racial justice, a justice far too long delayed.

White People Must Listen to the Prophetic Call for Justice

White People Must Listen to the Prophetic Call for Justice

Sr. Emily TeKolste, SP
June 16, 2020

The mayor of my hometown recently announced an intent to sue Minneapolis for the recovery of police costs in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the resulting nation-wide protests. He backed off of this intent within a day, but this announcement reveals the deep ignorance of many white people — especially white people who live in areas built on the white flight of the 1950s and 1960s — of what’s really behind the ongoing Movement for Black Lives.

Instead of throwing blame or even settling for arrests of the officers responsible for the police brutality that inspired the protests, white people are called to go further. We must look deeply at our systems and at our own hearts to see more clearly the structural and historical racism in our society and the ways we are socialized into a white supremacist culture. We must change the system that creates and fosters a willingness to sacrifice Black lives and dreams.

The city I grew up in had a reputation for ticketing people for “Driving While Black.” I can still remember having only three of the Black students in my class of 500 at the local public junior high school. Perhaps even more significantly, the city drained the taxbase from Indianapolis, leaving the city’s public amenities worse off because the wealthiest people moved to the suburbs, while still benefiting from living in proximity to the city.

The truth that many of us need to reckon with is that these protests are not just about the killing of George Floyd and Brionna Taylor. They are not just about the killing of Michael Brown or Tamir Rice or Sandra Bland or any of the countless others who have been murdered at the hands of the police or vigilante citizens. They are about that, and more.

The protests we’ve witnessed over the past weeks and over many, many years are about a systemic imbalance of power that certainly didn’t start with the police and demand a resolution which must go far beyond the prevention of police brutality.

The protests are about systemic racism that exists beyond intent or individual action. This systemic racism shows itself through the disproportionately high impact of COVID-19 in Black communities, which are overrepresented as workers in essential frontline industries, as inmates in crowded prisons, and as residents of underinvested neighborhoods with inadequate access to health care.

Systemic racism shows itself through the ongoing racial wealth gap. White U.S. residents have a median family wealth over eight times that of their Black and Hispanic counterparts. This is the result of white people building and then passing down wealth withheld from Black families through slavery, sharecropping, redlining, unequal access to benefits of the G.I. Bill, and more.

The racial wealth gap can also be connected to more obvious manifestations of racism, including the Tulsa Black Wall Street Massacre in Oklahoma. In 1921, a white mob attacked a flourishing Black business district along Greenwood Avenue, destroying the wealth that Black residents had built up in spite of the obstacles they faced.

Systemic racism shows itself through the city’s treatment of residents in Flint, Michigan, a predominantly Black community, who were ignored as they voiced concerns regarding the contamination of their water supply. The delayed and inadequate response by local government officials undermined the health of approximately 8,000 children exposed to lead poisoning between April 2014 and August 2016.

Systemic racism shows itself through decisions to impose unaffordable fines for minor offenses, particularly on Black people, in order to provide revenue for the city’s government in Ferguson, Missouri.

In a world where racism is systemic, it’s not enough to be a nice person. It’s not enough to donate to the “right” causes or oppose only the obvious white supremacy of our nation’s current Presidential administration. Amy Cooper, who was caught on video putting a Black man’s life in danger by falsifying an accusation against him and calling the police, checked those boxes.

Amy Cooper’s behavior toward Christian Cooper emphasizes that white privilege and white supremacy manifest themselves everywhere. In her use of dog-whistle claims, she made clear that her freedom to break the rules trumped his freedom to ask her to follow them. As Fr. Bryan Massingale says, “She assumed that a black man had no right to tell her what to do. She assumed that the police officers would agree.”

It may be tempting to look to the damaged buildings and broken glass as a reason to discredit the concerns of the Black community, but we must resist that temptation. Concern about the destruction of property must never surpass concern about human life. Especially for people of faith who profess the dignity of all human life.

As Catholics, we look closely at the life of Jesus, and Jesus upended society. In a story told in all four Gospels, he even drove those doing business out of the Temple. According to Gospel of John,

“In the Temple, he found people selling cattle, sheep, and pigeons, while moneychangers sat at their counters. Making a whip out of cords, Jesus drove them all out of the Temple—even the cattle and sheep—and overturned the tables of the moneychangers, scattering their coins.” (John 2:14-16).

When injustice is in our midst, we too must drive it out.

We white people must dig into the work of racial justice. As we do this, it is important for us to listen to people of color, especially Black people, and be sure they are compensated for their time and work in educating us. There are numerous resources available. NETWORK’s Recommit to Racial Justice guide lists many, many additional resources to continue your learning, as does our Resource Library.

As the Jewish Talmud reminds us, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Emily TeKolste is a Sister of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, and a grassroots organizer for NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. She lived in Carmel, IN, until 2014. She has contributed writing to Global Sisters Report.

Police and Black Lives Matter protestor

We Call for Justice in Policing: Standards and Accountability

We Call for Justice in Policing

Necessary Standards and Accountability

Tralonne Shorter
June 11, 2020

Our nation is at a pivotal moment to redress systemic racism and the various ways it manifests as state-sanctioned violence, over-criminalization, and policing of Black people and communities. On Monday June 8, 2020, House and Senate Democrats unveiled a new policing reform bill in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. The bill, the Justice in Policing Act, now has over 220 cosponsors.

NETWORK joins advocacy partners, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in encouraging all Members of Congress to support this legislation that would lay the groundwork for criminal justice reform by setting a standard for policing and safety and hold officers accountable for misconduct and excessive use of force. NETWORK sent the following letter to all Members of Congress in support of this critical legislation, as well as the accompanying leave behind document.

Download the letter as a PDF.
Download the Justice in Policing Act leave behind.

Read the letter:

 

June 11, 2020

Dear Members of Congress,

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice is pleased to express strong support for the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 (H.R. 7120) introduced by Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, Senator Cory Booker, and Senator Kamala Harris. We applaud our elected representatives for taking quick, bold action in response to the abhorrent and pernicious use of police force against Black adults and children. Now is the time for Congress to act and take a firm stance against the systemic racism embedded in police departments across the nation and within the criminal justice system. We implore you to pass this bill to honor George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Tony McDade, Tamir Rice, and the countless Black lives lost at the hands of police violence and in the name of keeping communities safe.

The Justice in Policing Act takes a monumental step toward dismantling the chokehold of white supremacy in policing by ending long-held practices that allow law enforcement officers to murder or maim Black people with impunity. These egregious acts of state-sanctioned violence terrorize Black communities across the nation, sowing deeper mistrust, and assailing communities that need investments in meaningful social and economic reform, not more dollars in militarizing the police force. For the United States to be great, we must root out all patterns and practices that destroy Black lives. This moment in history lays bare the reality that Black communities are traditionally under-resourced in education, health, housing, political representation, banking, and other federal and state programs that are necessary for people to thrive.

The Justice in Policing Act opens a route to reestablish trust in law enforcement and facilitate greater police accountability. This will enable the police to faithfully protect the communities they are meant to serve. The bill would ban chokeholds and support implicit bias training and community policing. As the House prepares to debate this bill, and negotiations with the Senate ensue, we urge you to include and adhere to the following principles in any legislation addressing police brutality and accountability:

    1. Require a federal standard that use of force be reserved for only when necessary as a last resort after exhausting reasonable options, and incentivize states to implement this standard; require the use of de-escalation techniques, and the duty to intervene; ban the use of force as a punitive measure or means of retaliation against individuals who only verbally confront officers, or against individuals who pose a danger only to themselves; and require all officers to accurately report all uses of force;
    2. Prohibit all maneuvers that restrict the flow of blood or oxygen to the brain, including neck holds, chokeholds, and similar excessive force, deeming the use of such force a federal civil rights violation;
    3. Prohibit racial profiling, and require robust data collection on police-community encounters and law enforcement activities. Data should capture all demographic categories and be disaggregated;
    4. Eliminate federal programs that provide military equipment to law enforcement;
    5. Prohibit the use of no-knock warrants, especially for drug searches;
    6. Change the 18 U.S.C. Sec. 242 mens rea requirement from willfulness to recklessness, permitting prosecutors to successfully hold law enforcement accountable for the deprivation of civil rights and civil liberties;
    7. Develop a national public database that would cover all police agencies in the United States and its territories, similar to the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training’s National Decertification Index,11 which would compile the names of officers who have had their licenses revoked due to misconduct, including but not limited to domestic violence, sexual violence, assault and harassment, criminal offense against minors, excessive use of force, violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242; perjury, falsifying a police report or planting and destroying evidence, and deadly physical assault; as well as terminations and complaints against the officers; and
    8. End the qualified immunity doctrine that prevents police from being held legally accountable when they break the law. To overcome the defense of qualified immunity, require that a victim must show that law enforcement violated “clearly established” law by pointing to a case arising in the same context and involving the same conduct.

A new day has dawned across the globe as millions march in protest, amid a pandemic, for an end to police assault of Black people and families. The time is long overdue for enacting policing reforms that hold law enforcement accountable and equally responsible for protecting and serving everyone in society. Failure to act now would be an abdication of your moral and civic duty and a blatant disregard for the humanity of Black lives.

Sincerely,

Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice