A young black man led a passionate but peaceful protest in downtown Davenport on May 30 in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. His death was the latest involving a black man dying after confrontation with police officers or white vigilantes.
The Davenport protest organizer led a group of around 500 to the Scott County Courthouse reciting a mantra: “No Justice, no peace!” At the courthouse, however, a vandal in the back of the crowd threw rocks at the building, damaging several windows. The protest organizer told news reporters he was heartbroken by the incident. His goal was to bring awareness of the need for justice, which in turn fosters peace.
Violence has erupted in protests throughout the nation, including Des Moines and Davenport, resulting in damage to buildings and harm to people. Two people were killed and two others were injured, including a Davenport police officer who was shot while responding to rioting.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds held a press conference June 1 to express Iowans’ grief and anger over the “criminal act that robbed George Floyd of his rights and his life” and to stand in solidarity with peaceful protesters seeking to end injustice. Respectful dialogue, not violence will move that effort forward, she said.
During the press conference, State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, an African American, praised the efforts of the 95 percent of peaceful, young protestors participating in civic engagement to work for justice. He condemned the violence by a small number of individuals that threatened to “hijack” the young people’s message. “Iowans, we are all in this together and we are going to start having some good conversations to make it (justice) a reality.”
We cannot allow the violence, fueled by the inequities exposed in this coronavirus pandemic, to deter us from addressing the racism that has formed deep, bulging roots in our country. Even now, we can begin working to eliminate the plague of racism.
A statement posted in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website underscores the urgency to take action. “We join our brother bishops to challenge everyone to come together, particularly with those who are from different cultural backgrounds. In this encounter, let us all seek greater understanding amongst God’s people. So many people who historically have been disenfranchised continue to experience sadness and pain, yet they endeavor to persevere and remain people of great faith. We encourage our pastors to encounter and more authentically accompany them, listen to their stories, and learn from them, finding substantive ways to enact systemic change. Such encounters will start to bring about the needed transformation of our understanding of true life, charity, and justice in the United States. Hopefully, then there will be many voices speaking out and seeking healing against the evil of racism in our land.”
The statement referenced the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on racism titled “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” published 18 months ago. That pastoral letter provides specific actions to respond to racism. Here are excerpts from the action plan:
• Listen to and know the stories of our brothers and sisters who have suffered from racism in history, and in the present. The bishops acknowledge the difficulty of true, authentic encounter (and this letter was written long before the coronavirus pandemic). Through “authentic engagement we bring together diverse perspectives and experiences which honor the fullness of God’s plan.” How about setting up video conferencing, Google Hangout or FaceTime gatherings in our diocese?
•Work to address individual and systemic racism. Commit to learning more about racism and employment, housing, wealth, education, criminal justice and voting. (For starters, read the bishops’ pastoral letter on racism at usccb.org/racism. Also, visit iowacatholicconference.org to learn what is happening in Iowa). Get involved in diocesan, parish or community efforts to pray and work for conversion of hearts and systems.
• Think about what you can do, wherever you are. Commit to raising your awareness in whatever situations you find yourself. For example, create opportunities for sharing of stories and learn how racism affects our communities. Regularly think about whose voices may be missing as leaders and volunteers in parish ministry. In your family, create opportunities to interact with people you may not encounter over the course of your week. Where in your community do you see diverse groups of people come together? Parents can talk with their children about race, and about everyone’s human dignity and the pain of racism in our country. Prayers for children on this topic are available at usccb.org/racism. When you return to school and work, think about how you can learn more about other cultures. Will you speak up if others receive different treatment because of their race? How will you respond if you hear someone making disparaging remarks about a classmate or worker?
• As individuals and as communities of faith, we need to examine our consciences. Where have I not lived as an example of Christ’s love? How have my attitudes or perceptions caused me to devalue persons of other cultures or ethnicities?
We can take action to begin the work to overcome racism, even as we deal with the constraints imposed by the coronavirus. The digital technology skills we’ve had to embrace provide an opportunity to do so. Like the peaceful protesters in Davenport, we have to build justice in order to achieve peace.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor