The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have expressed their “solidarity” with those in the United States who “challenge the evil of racism” and the “brutal killing” of George Floyd.
In the days since the killing of Mr Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on 25th May, hundreds of thousands of US citizens have taken to the streets to voice their outrage, grief and anger at his death.
“We stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the USA as they challenge the evil of racism and the brutal killing of George Floyd,” said the Bishop of Clifton, Declan Lang, and the Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, Paul McAleenan, on behalf of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW). “As the US Bishops made clear: ‘we cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life. We serve a God of love, mercy, and justice’.
“Systemic racism is embedded in our own society. The disproportionate harm suffered by BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) people throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted profound inequalities, marginalisation and injustice here in the UK. The peaceful Black Lives Matter protests taking place in our towns and cities this week reflect the understandable anger that so many people feel about this,” the bishops continued.
“As Catholics we recognise that racism is an evil which must be opposed; we all have a responsibility for actively promoting racial justice. Whenever we ignore racism or dismiss BAME people’s experience of it, we are complicit in violations of human dignity. We pray for God’s help to overcome racism in all its forms and that we might protect everyone who suffers its consequences. We are all made in God’s image,” added Bishop Lang, the CBCEW’s lead Bishop for International Affairs, and Bishop McAleenan, the CBCEW’s lead Bishop for Racial Justice.
Mr Floyd’s last moments of life were recorded on a widely circulated video showing a white police officer pushing down on his neck with his knee after police were called following allegations that Mr Floyd had attempted to use a counterfeit $20 bill. Mr Floyd was later pronounced dead.
Four officers from the Minneapolis Police Department were fired on 26th May, including Derek Chauvin, with whom Mr Floyd pleaded “Please, I can’t breathe” as he held him down. Chauvin is facing third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges.
Mahmoud Abumayyaleh, owner of Cup Foods grocery store in Minneapolis, said he and his family were ‘deeply saddened for our part of this tragedy’ as he extended their ‘deepest condolences’ to Mr Floyd’s family, friends and the South Minneapolis community.
‘There is no justification for the use of reckless force displayed by the police that murdered George Floyd. We support this protest and share in their anger,’ he wrote on Facebook.
Commenting on the incident, Mr Abumayyaleh, who was not present at the time, said the store called the police as ‘there is a state policy that requires stores to call the police in the case of counterfeit bills’ and ‘as a check-cashing business, this is a routine practice for us’.
He explained that police then arrive and ask the customer about the bill in order to trace its origin. However, he said the four officers who arrived at the scene to question Mr Floyd ‘proceeded to escalate the situation with increased use of violence and force’. Mr Abumayyaleh said his nephew, who was present, criticised the officers and was ‘yelling’ for them to stop their brutal treatment of Mr Floyd but one of the officers pushed him away.
‘Despite the fact that George never resisted arrest, police proceeded to end George Floyd’s life over a counterfeit bill. It’s likely that George did not even know that he had a fake bill to begin with. We are deeply saddened for our part of this tragedy.’
Mr Abumayyaleh said Cup Foods would be donating to pay for Mr Floyd’s memorial service and vowed to no longer call the police until they reform their ways.
‘Police are supposed to protect and serve their communities; instead, what we’ve seen over and over again is the police abusing their power and violating the people’s trust,’ he wrote.
‘We realise now that escalating situations to the police almost always does more harm than good, even for something as harmless as a fake bill. This is not an isolated incident: they have shown time and time again that they do not know how to peacefully handle conflicts in our community.
‘By simply following procedure we are putting our communities in danger. Until the police stop killing innocent people, we will handle incidents like this one using non-violent tactics that do not involve police. We must stand together to fight against institutional racism,’ he added.
Picture: Protestors demonstrate near the Oakland Police Department in Oakland, California on 2nd June 2020 after the death of George Floyd. (imageSPACE/SIPA USA/PA).