By Carolyn Townes, OFS
National Animator of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation
Greetings of peace, my dear Franciscan Family!
It is with the heaviest of hearts that I write this. Once again, we are at a moment in time when yet another unarmed person of color is brutally and viciously murdered at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. And yet, this time something is different. Here in the United States as well as abroad, people have taken to the streets to peacefully march and protest the senseless killing of an unarmed Black man. But the difference is we are still in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.
For weeks, many of us have been sheltering at home, isolated, quarantined to prevent further spread of the corona virus (COVID-19) that have taken the lives of nearly half a million people worldwide. And yet, people came out of their homes, out of their quarantined lives, many wearing face masks to take to the streets to protest and call out the evil of systemic racism.
From the Pastoral Letter Against Racism, Open Wide Our Hearts, by Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
Racism arises when – either consciously or unconsciously – a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard. When this conviction or attitude leads individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat, or unjustly discriminate against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity, it is sinful. Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice. They reveal a failure to acknowledge the human dignity of the persons offended, to recognize them as the neighbors Christ calls us to love (Mt 22:39).
As the National Animator of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation here in the U.S., I write to you with a particular point of view, as a woman of color. I am very sad to say, I could have at any time been in the place of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor. And as your National Animator who is also a storyteller, let me share with you a story:
It was a rainy Friday evening in New York City. I had just come home from working at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Manhattan – as Animator of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. I was doing further work on the computer when there was a knock at the front door. At the time, I lived with my sister and two of her children, my nephew and niece. My nephew came into my room and said there were police at the door and they wanted to speak with me. Puzzled, I set down the laptop and went to the door. There stood two armed police officers asking if I knew anything about an assault that had taken place in our apartment building earlier that day. I said that I had not as I just got home from work. The officers left, seemingly satisfied with my response. I went back into my room and back to my work on my laptop.
Not more than five minutes later, there was another knock. This time on my bedroom door. I opened the door, thinking it was my nephew again. It was two more armed police officers, shining flashlights in my face. One of them grabbed me by the arm, slammed me up against the wall, and handcuffed me. I will never forget how tight those handcuffs were. In utter shock, I stammered, “Why? Why?” It was all I could say, I was in such a state of shock. They told me to shut up, I was to be taken to the police station where someone would explain there. My Miranda Rights were never read. (I had watched enough Law and Order to know!) I was dressed in my bed clothes with slippers and it was pouring rain outside. As the officers pulled me out of the apartment, I kept asking “Why?” My nephew and sister were also arrested, cuffed and taken out of the apartment. I remember my nephew swearing and yelling at the officers and me telling him to keep quiet. Even back then, I knew they could have shot him on the spot and claimed it was self-defense.