Chauvin trial verdict: diocesan Catholics share thoughts for moving forward

CNS/Maria Wiering, The Catholic Spirit
Buttons with a dove and the words “Know Justice, Know Peace” were available for Peaceful Presence participants at St. Thomas More and St. Peter Claver in St. Paul, Minn., April 20.

By Barb Arland-Fye and Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

The guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial shows “that our judicial system works through we the people,” says Jim Collins, a par­ish­ioner at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. He echoes the words of Bish­op Thomas Zinkula who said in a statement following the verdict … “the hard work of achieving racial reconciliation and justice must continue with prayer, learning and action.”

On April 20, a diverse jury found Chauvin, a white, former Minneapolis police officer, guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd, a Black man. Video recorded by 17-year-old bystander Darnella Frazier and seen round the world showed Chauvin with his knee pressed on the neck of Floyd for more than 9 minutes as he lay on the ground, handcuffed and pleading for his life.

Going forward, “Our actions ought to include rooting out racism in our homes, schools, workplaces, institutions and the public square, as well as advocating for state and federal laws that recognize and reinforce the dignity of every person,” Bishop Zinkula said. “Through our prayer, learning and action, we reaffirm that every single person is made in the image and likeness of God and hence has intrinsic dignity.”

Black Catholics share their perspective

“Become more informed on the many different perspectives of the issue of race and its history in America (the good, the bad and the ugly),” said Collins. “Don’t expect to find ‘instant gratification’ for what you think is right, and don’t advocate change just for the sake of change as you may end up ‘throwing out the baby with the bath water.’”

After becoming informed, he encourages people of faith to work, “giving of your prayers, time, talents and treasures to sustain and build on the positives that so many others before you have already sacrificed (including life) for.”

For Christians, “there is no right way to do a wrong thing,” Collins said. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. “never threw a brick or burned a building in protesting for and advancing the cause of racial justice and equity. Can we all agree that MLK changed the foundation of the world as to how we look at it from a racial and equity perspective?”

Thomas Mason IV, who leads the St. Martin de Porres So­ciety at Sacred Heart Cathed­ral, said the Chauvin verdict was the “first time in the state of Minne­sota that a police officer has been convicted of murdering an unarmed Black man.”

“Like most Americans,” said Mason, “I find relief in the fact that this former police officer is being held accountable for his actions. However, I have to question what would have happened if the courageous teenager who had the foresight to record the events as they were transpiring had not done so. Would there have been justice or accountability?”

The verdict in the Chauvin trial “is a call to continue the fight for racial unity, equity and inclusion. Together, through education, love and prayer, we can make this vision a reality.” It requires examining “your own racial experiences, including white privilege and the fact that you may have unearned privilege due to your race or ethnicity while others have unearned disadvantage due to their race or ethnicity. Work to eradicate racism in your respective communities such as the workplace, school, social network, etc.”

Mason believes “Racism is perpetuated by silence and silence is complicity. Being ‘colorblind’ often serves as a pretense to downplay the significance of race, deny the existence of racism, and erase the experience of people of color. Be willing to have the uncomfortable conversations and turn them into teachable moments. The Catholic Church needs to reinforce through Scripture that God created all human beings equally.”

Finally, “we all need to recognize that eradicating racism is in society’s best interest. I truly believe that when the most marginalized and disadvantaged individuals in society are treated as equals we will have achieved a racially just and equitable society.”

A son of Mason, 18-year-old Chase, says the Chauvin verdict gave him “a sense of hope because (Chauvin’s conviction) is one of the first times that I have seen justice in a police brutality case. I believe this could be a huge step in holding other police officers accountable for their actions.”

Chase Mason asks people of faith to “try to look at our society through a minority’s perspective and understand the problems that they face. This would provide our community with a sense of empathy and determination in order to make it an overall better place.”

“This was a long awaited start with Chauvin,” said Tyla Sherwin-Cole, who previously served as the Diocese of Dav­en­port’s arch­i­vist. “The whole system should be next. What can we do? Continue to push for reforms that promote training to officers’ accountability, biases, and de-escalation. Use your voice in all elections. Register to vote. Continue to #sayshisname.”

“Learn about other people and their culture; speak out against biased language; think before you speak.”

White allies offer their suggestions

Trevor Pullinger, pastoral associate at All Saints Parish in Keokuk and parish life coordinator at St. Joseph Parish in Montrose, said that all people sin, and cannot be free from sin until they identify it as such. “We need to hold people in authoritative positions accountable, myself included. Just in the same way the church has done with sexual abuse, we are improving at accountability, yet the work continues.”

Pullinger said accountability is a process in dealing with the sin of racism. He is grateful that Chauvin is being held accountable for his role in George Floyd’s death, but “the work isn’t done, not by a long shot. It has barely even begun. …How can we be liberated from sin if we turn a blind eye to sin, especially in our own personal lives?”

Jeanette Roush-Krafka and Elsabeth Hepworth, adult daughters of diocesan priest Father Bill Roush, wrote in an e-mail to The Catholic Messenger that Chauvin’s conviction signals accountability and a step toward justice, “but we would not call it justice outright. Justice would be a system where every person is treated with dignity and respect, where every person experiences equal rights, equity, equality, inclusion and belonging.”

“For generations, Black and brown neighborhoods have experienced the consequences of stricter law enforcement. This system perpetuates violence, often resulting in the killing of innocent people. We cannot call a system that perpetuates such violence justice. Millions of us saw the video detailing the last few minutes of George Floyd’s life, yet we collectively held our breath, because we weren’t sure the systems in place would convict for the murder we saw with our own eyes. This points to a justice system that is far from just.”

They believe the verdict is only as significant as Americans choose to make it. “Being ‘anti-racist’ and being Christian are practically synonymous in that they are both lifelong endeavors through which we grow to be better, more empathetic, just people. As Christians and as anti-racists we are called to critical self-reflection. We must call to mind the prejudices and biases we hold in our hearts and choose to deconstruct them,” the sisters said. Then, “we can grow together and become better, more empathetic, more compassionate people as we work to build an equal, equitable, inclusive society that incorporates justice for us all throughout all walks of life and within every system we take part in.”

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Systemic racism: Black Catholics share their views

Barb Arland-Fye
Jim Collins, right, and Thomas Mason IV talk and pray by a statue of St. Martin de Porres outside Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

An education bill advancing in the Iowa Legislature would prohibit teaching in government diversity training or a K-12 school curriculum that the “U.S. and Iowa are inherently or systemically racist.” The bill’s proponents assume Iowans agree on a definition of “systemic racism,” but the term might be more nebulous than they realize.

The Catholic Messenger interviewed Black Catholics to share their thoughts on the meaning of systemic racism and how the church, collectively and individually, can work to eliminate it.

Thomas Mason IV leads the St. Martin de Porres Society, founded in 1985 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport to promote racial unity and Black awareness among Catholics in the diocese. Mason defines systemic racism in this way:

“Systemic racism is evident in homeownership, where lower incomes and higher rates of poverty, combined with difficulties in getting mortgage approval, mean that homeownership rates for Black Americans remain low to nearly unattainable. Systemic racism is evident in employment, where Black Americans are grossly underrepresented in corporate hierarchy. For example, as of 2020, there are only four Fortune 500 companies that have Black CEOs.”

“Systemic racism is evident in education, where school climate is also a factor because Black students need to feel safe and have a sense of belonging. They need to have adults they trust and who look like them at school, as it may affect how well they perform on assignments and standardized tests.”

“Black students are more likely to enroll in honors classes, for instance, if those courses are taught by Black teachers. Studies have also shown that Black and Latino students are also far more likely to attend schools in low-income neighborhoods, which impacts academic achievement, in part because of lack of resources.”

A wedge issue

Jim Collins, a fellow parishioner at Sacred Heart Cathedral and member of St. Martin de Porres Society, offers this definition of systemic racism: “If you are a person of color or different nationality, you are disadvantaged intentionally in your life across institutions and society in areas like employment, pay, housing discrimination, incarceration, etc.”
However, he thinks the term “systemic racism” becomes a wedge between people, which alienates rather than fosters racial equality and justice. “While we all work to level the ‘playing field,’ we have to work towards assuring the dignity of all.”

“My belief is that racial hate and misunderstanding in America has been a part of our history, is in our present and will have a presence in our society as long as we’re here on this earth,” Collins, a retired Deere & Co., executive said. “Sorry, but we are humans and thus imperfect. Therefore, some number of us will continue the sin of hate by race. The answer? What will the rest of us do about it?”

“I have two nephews, both of whom have been pulled over for driving while Black, and even though I have a nodding acquaintance with the police from work, I’m still nervous driving sometimes,” says Andrea Edelen, a Black Catholic and longtime parishioner of Sacred Heart Cathedral. Her father, the late Andy Edelen, co-founded the St. Martin de Porres Society with the late Father Marvin Mottet.

“At church, it’s been a long time since anyone looked twice at me, no matter what parish I go to. That was not the case when my family moved here in the late ‘60s. While we attended Holy Family (in Davenport), my father became one of the first eucharistic ministers, and parishioners would avoid his line so as not to receive Communion from him.”

Nonetheless, Andrea Edelen thinks, “Our church in particular has been very ‘proactive,’ if that’s the correct term, in educating the public about Black Catholics and their role in the history of the church,” she said. “As with a lot of issues involving race, I think education is the key component.”

Tyla Cole, who previously served as archivist for the Diocese of Davenport, says the disturbing video that captured the death of George Floyd while in police custody last year shows that systemic racism continues. For centuries, Black Americans have been left physically, emotionally and economically behind. “It’s not hard to notice since hate crimes, and white supremacist have been encouraged and anti-immigrant rhetoric intensified.”

“Systemic racism is in our schools, workplace, court system, police departments and elsewhere. Why? White people occupy most positions of decision-making power; people of color have a difficult time getting ahead, let alone things being fair. How can we do a better job? Believe that it’s real. Start a conversation and take action,” Cole says.

Engage in conversations

Mason, a technical sales representative, husband and father of three children, says people need to “learn to recognize their own privilege as racial privilege plays out across social, political, economic and cultural environments.” For example, “What messages did you receive as a kid about people who are different from you? What was the racial and/or ethnic make-up of your neighborhood, school or religious community? Why do you think that was the case? These experiences may produce and reinforce bias, stereotypes and prejudice, which can lead to discrimination. Thus, by examining our own biases it can help us work to ensure equality for all.”

He encourages people of faith to “engage in tough conversations about race and injustice. We must not be afraid to discuss oppression and discrimination for fear of ‘getting it wrong.’”

“The best way to understand racial injustice is by listening to people of color,” Mason says. The role of the Catholic Church and the faithful, individually and collectively, to eliminate racism begins with education. “The Catholic Church needs to recognize that racism is present in our everyday life. The Catholic Church needs to educate all Catholics to recognize and understand the contributions of Black Catholics to the church. This includes the teaching of Black saints, reading books calling for unity of Catholics across races, and support for interfaith dialogue to end racism.”

“Catholic leaders also need to draw attention to steps parishioners can take locally, such as supporting the blessing box, contributing to the clothing center, etc., which improves lives in the community. The Catholic Church needs to reinforce through Scripture that God created all human beings equally.”

Finally, as “Pope Francis remarked on the first Inter­na­tional Day of Human Fraternity, ‘There is no time today for indifference. Either we are brothers and sisters, or everything will fall apart. Fraternity is the new frontier for humanity on which we need to build; it is the challenge of our century,’” Mason says.

Ideas for moving forward

“I believe that most people, especially those of us of faith, don’t get up in the morning planning how to run our schools, places of work, our communities and society in general to the advantage of some and the disadvantage of others based on race,” Collins says.

“Regretfully, Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream ‘that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’ will not be fully realized. However, we can celebrate and use the model of many accomplishments realized in our nation, regional area and specifically in the Diocese of Davenport since his dream speech.”

Collins points to the election of the first Black President; first Black Vice President; Black mayors elected in Iowa in the Diocese of Davenport (Clinton and Iowa City). He referred to Black police chiefs, school superintendent and numerous Black business owners and executives in the Quad-City metro area. He is encouraged by integrated housing throughout the greater Quad-City metro area.

Many people of color paid the price over so many years to achieve the inroads in racial justice, Collins says. It is the role of each individual — regardless of skin color — to uphold God’s instruction: “that I am my brother’s keeper.”

Collins appreciates the U.S. bishops’ most recent pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts” (2018) and the statements from Bishop Thomas Zinkula, and the story he shared of his family’s experience with racism. Moving forward, Collins offers these seven suggestions for the Catholic Church and the people who comprise it:

1. Learn about other people and their history.

2. Have a conversation with other people on issues of race. Learn about their history.

3. Collaborate with a sister church of another race/culture.

4. Evangelize to integrate our church.

5. Read, read, read.

6. Pray for and support programs in support of the disenfranchised, marginalized and the greater community. The St. Martin de Porres Society, for example, is open to all the faithful in the Diocese of Davenport. Contact thomasmason1928@gmail.com for more information.

7. Pray, pray, pray. “We have a statue of St. Martin de Porres on the campus of Sacred Heart Cathedral. This is here for anyone to sit and meditate, to pray for racial unity in our community.”

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God ‘made from one the whole human race’

A movement is emerging in parishes, schools and clergy meetings in the Diocese of Davenport to learn how racism affects people of color in every aspect of their lives. It is imperative to keep the momentum going in Iowa (90.6 percent white) because some Iowans do not think racism is an issue that touches our lives.

“The Catholic Church needs to recognize that racism is present in our everyday life,” says Thomas Mason IV, a Black Catholic who leads the St. Martin de Porres Society at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. He says education is essential to helping all Catholics, across races, to learn about racism and to support interfaith dialogue to end it. The society he leads invites people throughout the diocese to become members who will help foster understanding of racial and cultural differences and through that effort to find unity. Contact Mason (thomasmason1928@gmail.com) to attend the April meeting, virtually or in person.

Consider joining a study group reflecting on the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love.” Check with your parish, Catholic school or other faith–based organization to see about joining a study on the bishops’ pastoral letter, or offer to organize one yourself. The materials are available on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website (usccb.org/resources/open-wide-our-hearts-study-guide).

Some priests and deacons in our diocese have talked about racism in their homilies and intercessions, knowing that not all parishioners are receptive to the message. Don’t let pushback end the discussion; messages from the pulpit can help change hearts.

Some schools in our diocese have taken the lead on raising students’ awareness about the contributions of Black civic and religious leaders in our country. Students at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton studied prominent Black leaders and saints during Black History Month in February, a story we published to enlighten readers. Students at All Saints Catholic School and Assumption High School, both in Davenport, participated in St. Martin de Porres Black History Month essay contests. Watch for excerpts from their essays in future issues of The Catholic Messenger.

The discussions and the studies are challenging, particularly in communities where little diversity exists. Mason says we need to engage in tough conversation about race and injustice. It is OK to be afraid to discuss oppression and discrimination for fear of “getting it wrong” he said. “We learn about domestic violence by listening to survivors of domestic violence. The way to understand racial injustice is by listening to people of color.”

Invite people of color to share their stories in a gathering at the parish, in-person or virtual, as diocesan pandemic protocols permit. Watch documentaries and read books about people of color. Some suggested books to read (all available at www.amazon.com):

• “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church” by Bryan N. Massingale.

• “I Came as a Shadow: An Autobiography,” a memoir by the legendary Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson.

• “Caste, The Origins of Our Discontents (Oprah’s Book Club),” by Isabel Wilkerson.

Tyla Cole, a Black woman who previously served as the Diocese of Davenport’s archivist, says racism is not hard to notice because “hate crimes and white supremacists have been encouraged and anti-immigrant rhetoric intensified. Systemic racism is in our schools, workplace, court system, police departments, and elsewhere. Why? White people occupy most positions of decision-making power; people of color have a difficult time getting ahead.

Let alone things being fair.” How can we do a better job? “Believe that it’s real. Start a conversation and take action.”

Let us start with our Iowa legislators, who need to hear from us. A newly passed election law (Senate File 413), for example, will make it more difficult for some Iowans to vote. Organizations that represent people of color see this bill as a not so subtle sign of racism. “Given this country’s history of devising ways to deny the vote to African Americans and other people of color, it’s not rocket science to know these changes will have adverse impact on voters of color,” Betty Andrews, President of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, said in a March 8 statement.

Two other bills, House Files 802 and 228, also adversely affect our state’s ability to come to terms with racism. HF 802 prohibits effective diversity training for all state, county, city, public post-secondary education and public K-12 education. HF 228 would eliminate voluntary diversity plans under the state’s open enrollment law. Please oppose these bills.

We ought to pray and reflect on Scripture to prepare our hearts to learn about and work to end racism. “He made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions, so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him, though indeed he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor
Arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org

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Working toward racial justice begins with examining the past

Anne Marie Amacher
St. Ambrose University students and staff in Davenport participate in a Martin Luther King Day march for racial justice in this file photo.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Shakti Butler, a filmmaker and educator in the field of social and racial equality, led participants of a two-day conference through history as she guided them to explore working toward racial justice and healing. The Ambrose Women for Social Justice Conference took place online last month.

Butler is president and founder of World Trust Educational Services Inc., an organization dedicated to racial justice and healing through film, curricula and programs that spark institutional, structural and cultural change. The first day of the conference “Framing a Racial Justice Foundation,” focused on uncovering and interrogating the system of racial inequality that impacts the way people think and act in the world. The second day focused on “Healing and Racial Imagination” to encourage conversation and working toward healing the wounds of racial injustice.

Butler observed that love is justice that inspires people in fairness and awareness. To get to that point, Americans need to look at the past to understand the roots of today’s realities. She noted that Europeans colonized 85-90 percent of the world, bringing their thinking, traditions and ways of life to each place they settled. They brought capitalism, but also needed labor.

Colonization led to supremacism and capitalism, which involved slavery, genocide, “invisible” labor, femicide/child abuse, ecocide and exploitation of resources. All of these activities lead to trauma, she said. A system of inequality is interconnected and movable. History, identification and culture becomes embedded in people.

She showed a video on Native Americans being “civilized” through school systems that aimed to eradicate their Native American culture. Many natives resisted, she said. Continuing through history, “Notice how the system of inequities continues to show up.”

The 1790 Naturalization Act, for instance, applied to “free white persons” only until 1952. Lawmakers did not adjust the law until 1965. Despite that fact, today “we still have kids locked up in cages.”

The Removal Act of 1830 moved Native Americans west of the Mississippi River to make room for white people. Tribes had to agree to give up their homelands. When a territory became majority white, those areas could become states.

Jim Crow laws intimidated Blacks. (These laws “were a collection of state and local statues that legalized racial segregation … for about 100 years, from the post-Civil War era until 1968” and “were meant to marginalize African Americans by denying them the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education or other opportunities” – history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/jim-crow-laws).

Black citizens could not change employment without a supervisor’s permission, ride a freight car without permission or engage in sexual activity or loud talk with a white woman. “It’s slavery by another name,” Butler said.

She pointed out other laws that favored white people. The Federal Housing Administration, established in 1934, aimed to help Americans become homeowners. However, 98% of the loans went to white people. Without fair housing, Black people had less access to jobs, food, education and other life necessities. Likewise, the Social Security Act of 1935 created a safety net for retirement but excluded agricultural workers and domestic servants – jobs held predominantly by African American, Mexican and Asian workers.

The list continued: the 1935 Wagner Act granted unions the power of collective bargaining. However, it excluded non-whites, denying them access to better pay and jobs. “Many craft unions remained nearly all white until the 1970s,” Butler said. The 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act helped increase mobility. The downside: businesses started moving farther out of the city to where land was cheaper. That left behind employees who could not afford to move out of the city.

For social change to happen, “We have to hear the voices of the marginalized,” Butler said. “Bring them to the table with access.” Healing and transparency are necessary. “It’s about freedom.”

This trauma rooted in American history disrupts the default network in the brain and has affected self-esteem. Understanding the system of inequality that dates back centuries is necessary in order to heal, she said during the second day of the conference. People need to come together to talk and to listen. She told participants that the body’s natural response to trauma is fight, flight, freeze, submit, disassociate. “We need to learn to deal with trauma to love ourselves.”

Racial imagination, she said, involves fleshing out dreams of the future. Think about how policy is created, do a power analysis on who makes change and how to get to those people. This must be done in a collective attempt. “Everything is connected. Yes, you can change the world — at least your world,” she told participants.

(The two-day conference was part of the St. Ambrose University College of Arts and Sciences 2020-21 Academic Theme, The Changing Climates: From Rising Seas to Societal Needs.)

 

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