Last month, I joined with a delegation from Brooklyn and Queens and with people from all around the country for the March for Life in our nation’s capital. Rightly celebrating the Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case overturning Roe v. Wade, we recognized that we still have a long way to go to transform the culture around us, awakening society to the dignity of human life in its earliest stages.
A week later, we watched in horror the video of the traffic stop and subsequent beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, by several police officers. What we saw happen to Mr. Nichols and his eventual death saddens and angers us beyond belief. Violence of any kind is reprehensible, but when done at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve, it is even more disturbing.
For us as Catholics, the same foundational principle applies — every human person is created in the image and likeness of God, and at every stage of life, in every moment of life, and in every set of circumstances, is deserving of respect for the dignity of their life. Respect for human life demands that we cry out against this act of violence.
At first glance, this attack does not appear to be racially motivated. However, the beating and death of Mr. Nichols open the wounds of those who have suffered racism. That pain is deep. Indeed, this tragic event has and will continue to spark some intense conversations within our homes, businesses, communities, our church, and elsewhere.
One of the things we need to do as a Catholic Christian community is to listen deeply to one another and understand the pain. Even in some cases, we need to listen to the anger that some people feel. When one member of the body hurts, the entire body hurts. We cannot deny that there are many divisions in our society today. But we need to be instruments of healing, and we can start by listening to and walking with one another.
At the same time, it is all the more essential for us to consider with gratitude the courageous and generous service of our New York Police Department and other first responders. We are constantly, sometimes sadly, reminded of the risks these brave women and men take every day for the public’s safety and well-being. Already in my first year, I have attended far too many funerals for police officers and firefighters.
I can honestly say I have not encountered a single officer who does not condemn in the strongest terms this violent beating and death. By far, the vast majority of these men and women serve with honor and respect and are willing each day to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect and defend the citizens entrusted to their care.
True, every human being, every human institution, is always in need of self-examination and reflection. This is fundamental to the human condition, the very hallmark of our system of governance. Humbly, I must say we have seen this need for reform in our Church, and we must always remain vigilant.
So, too, do we see this need for reform in our police departments as in all levels of government, media, and business. Perhaps these changes should include an effort to cultivate greater support for the mission of our law enforcement officers as they stand on the front lines in the wake of increasing crime and violence in our city and throughout the country.
As brothers and sisters in the faith, we are taught that the path to authentic reform begins with a profound respect for the dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus puts it more directly: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
May Tyre Nichols rest in peace, and may his family be consoled in their grief. May Christ bestow his peace upon Memphis and upon our whole nation. May we recommit ourselves to respecting, nurturing, and protecting every human life.