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‘Racism is a sin against humanity’

PC(USA) Washington office calls for action following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

A makeshift memorial and mural outside Cup Foods where George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25. (Photo by munshots via UnSplash)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky  — Calling racism “a sin against humanity,” the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness expressed outrage at the death of George Floyd Friday and called on Presbyterians to take action in the wake of his death.

“To watch this man die at the hands of a police officer whose sole authority resides in the motto, ‘to protect and to serve,’ demands action,” the Rev. Jimmie R. Hawkins, Director of the Office of Public Witness, said in the Action Alert. “It makes understandable the outrage demonstrated in the fires started as the only voice people in power and authority seem to understand. Now they want to listen. Now they want peace.”

Floyd died on Memorial Day after being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill at a Minneapolis deli. Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, held Floyd, who is black, on the ground with his knee to Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. During that time, Floyd said repeatedly that he could not breathe and cried out for his mother before becoming unresponsive. Three other officers participated in Floyd’s arrest and failed to respond to onlookers’ pleas to help Floyd. The incident was captured on a widely circulated video.

All four officers were fired May 26. On May 29, Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Floyd’s death followed the March 13 fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor by police in her Louisville, Kentucky apartment and the killing Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia on Feb. 23 by a former police detective and his son. All of the victims were black, and the people who killed them were white. In both cases, it took social media awareness campaigns to bring the incidents to the public’s attention. In both incidents, as well as Floyd’s, the victim was unarmed.

Over the weekend, protests erupted in Minneapolis, Louisville, Atlanta and many other cities, and some of the protests turned violent.

“The death of George Floyd was the spark of these protests, but I think it is really a wider statement about the current affairs of this nation,” Hawkins said in a Monday morning interview. “I think it’s a statement against the direction the country is headed in. A lot of young people are frustrated and feel the country can be better.

“As I watch these young people out in the streets, I think that they’re saying they’re fed up with everything, right now — with the direction this country is headed in, their future, the lack of political leadership to bring the country together.”

The Action Alert from the Capitol Hill ministry pointed out that these most recent killings come with the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a disproportionate impact on people who are black, from the death toll to the economic fallout.

“The racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness so prevalent within our country must end!” it says.

The alert calls for two specific actions:

  1. Petition the President of the United States to proclaim a national day of “Mourning Against Racial Injustice” on June 19, the traditional day of celebration for African Americans over the end of slavery, where flags will be flown at half-mast.
  1. Contact your member of Congress demanding legislation that defines racialized police violence as a hate crime.

People can respond by directly contacting officials through Voter Voice.

“Racism is a sin against humanity,” the Action Alert says. “Our sacred text tells us that ALL humans are made in God’s image and likeness.  As people of faith, we must honor the inherent value and dignity of all people and seek justice when that value and dignity is attacked. We are calling on Presbyterians to take action and ‘stand against racism in all its myriad forms.’”

The Office of Public Witness is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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