By Father Alonzo Cox
Almost one year ago, as I was watching the news on television with my parochial vicar, havoc was arising in the city of Minneapolis. Reports were coming in that an unarmed Black man had been killed by a Minneapolis police officer. I watched as protests and riots began to take place. At the time I did not know many of the details of this incident. It was not until a few hours later that the cell phone video of this murder was released to the public.
I watched in complete horror; a Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of this unarmed Black man for nine minutes as he yelled out “I can’t breathe.” It had to be one of the most heinous and vile recordings that I had ever seen. Clearly, this was not an accident on the part of this police officer. All I could say to myself and my parochial vicar who was watching this with me was, this is murder and justice has to be served!
As an African-American man, I have heard many stories — too many to be honest — of how people of color are physically assaulted and even killed by the hands of racist law enforcement officers. No one should be threatened or assaulted by men and women who take an oath to protect the citizens of their jurisdiction. To watch George Floyd be murdered by the hands of law enforcement officer Derek Chauvin urged me to preach about this to the people entrusted to me. At the time, of course, we were still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. We were livestreaming our Masses from the parish. George Floyd’s murder happened to coincide with the Solemnity of Pentecost. In my homily, I asked for prayers for George Floyd’s family, peace in our society, and for God’s justice to come about.
On April 20, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd. As I watched the verdict come in that afternoon, I prayed that God’s justice would come about, and it did. People have asked me, how do you feel about the guilty verdict? My answer has been, we should not have gotten to this moment to begin with! Each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. All lives are precious from the moment of conception to natural death. It was visibly clear to the American people and the twelve jurors in Minneapolis that Derek Chauvin had violently taken this life from the world.
We as Catholics must continue to pray for peace and harmony. We know that racism is a reality that can only be defeated by prayer, invoking God’s love, mercy, and justice to abide. We cannot sit back as a community of believers and watch once again another per- son of color murdered by the hands of a racist law enforcement officer. We must work together as a community to spread the love God has for all of his people. We continue to pray for those who pledge to protect and defend our community.
May the peace and love of Christ Jesus open wide the hearts of all God’s people here on earth.
Father Cox is the pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish, Bedford-Stuyvesant and coordinator for the Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns for the Diocese of Brooklyn.