“We’re all in this together.” How many times have we heard this phrase during the past two and a half months? “We’re all in the same boat.” Are we, really?
Last Monday, Christian Cooper recorded a video as the white woman he confronted about having her dog off its leash in a part of Central Park where leashes are required told him she was going to call the police and tell them that an African American man is threatening her life. When Amy Cooper (no relation) called 911, that is exactly what she frantically told them as Christian kept his distance, recording the incident. He ultimately left before the police arrived.
That same day, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers, and it was captured on video by a bystander. I found and watched the full video rather than relying on the short segments included in most news stories and social media posts. As a former police officer, what I saw infuriated and disgusted me. There was no doubt in my mind that this was an excessive use of force and a complete disregard for the life of someone whose wellbeing the officers became responsible for when they took him into their custody. As George Floyd begged for his life, the officers simply ignored his recurring plea, “I can’t breathe!”
No, we are not all in the same boat.
For the past week people have filled the streets of cities across our nation demanding justice for George Floyd, the latest in a long line of black men who have died at the hands of police. They are also calling for change, including an end to the racism that exists in many of the systems and structures of our society. While most people have been protesting peacefully, some have engaged in violent behavior and looting that has caused significant damage and loss throughout our cities.
Racism is a sin. It is a very real evil that affects individual people as well as our communities. It distorts our vision, blinding us to the reality that each and every person is created in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:27). It causes us to see people who are different from ourselves as “other” rather than our sisters and brothers (Gal 3:26-28). Racism is a personal sin that is entwined in the fabric of our own lives, and it is a social sin that is entwined in the fabric of society. It perpetuates inequality. Over the past three months we have seen a web of systemic social issues contribute to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people of color. Like all sin, racism leads to death, sometimes quite literally.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all this is happening as we have just celebrated the feast of Pentecost. For over two months we have been unable to gather in person at our parishes. This has been a time for us to remember that the Church is not a building; we, God’s people, are the Church. As we begin the process of reopening our parishes, it is important for us to remember that it is not enough for us to merely go to church, we must be the Church! Like the fearful disciples who were transformed by the powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we, too, must be transformed and boldly go out in the world proclaiming the Good News of healing, salvation, and new life in Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 2).
We need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to help us confront the racism present today in our own lives, our families, and our society. We need the fire of the Spirit to purify our hearts, minds, and lives so we can begin to break free from the cycles of injustice. We need the wind of the Spirit to carry each of us out to the places where we can foster healing and reconciliation. We need the gifts of the Spirit to give us the courage to face uncomfortable truths and work for change, and to persevere in the face of discomfort and adversity. We need the gift of humility to help us recognize that we don’t have all the answers, to acknowledge when we have been wrong, and to continue striving to do better. We need the gift of wisdom to help us discern when we are called to listen compassionately to others, seeking to understand their experiences and their pain, and to discern when we are called to take action. We need the Spirit to bring us together as the Body of Christ, because it will take each and every one of us to defeat the evil of racism. We need the Spirit to breathe into us the breath of new life!
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,
And enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Sprit, and we shall be created,
And you shall renew the face of the earth.