The deaths of two African-American men last month at the hands of police in Baton Rouge, La., and Falcon Heights, Minn., a suburb of St. Paul, provoked soul-searching and demonstrations against police brutality and institutional racism around the country. In a jolt to the entire nation, the killings apparently also provoked a rampage against police that left five officers dead in Dallas, Tex., on July 7. And in a shocking replay on July 17, three officers were shot down in Baton Rouge and three other officers wounded, a sheriff's office spokeswoman said.
The suspect in the Baton Rouge attack was killed by police at the scene. The shooting—which happened less than a mile from Baton Rouge police headquarters—came amid spiraling tensions across the city—and the country—between the black community and police.
“Words cannot express the emotions we feel for those who have lost loved ones in the tragic events of this day,” Bishop Robert Muench of Baton Rouge said in a statement released on July 17. “Their entire lives have been unexpectedly and terribly turned upside down.” The bishop wrote that he had visited with two of the families affected by the shootings and “shared prayer and support in the midst of their shock, horror and grief.”
“Prayer is a powerful path to follow when tragedy happens,” Bishop Muench wrote, “but even the most devout of us sometime question: ‘What good could come of this?’ Only the Word of God has the answer to the questions that shake our faith: The answer is our Lord Jesus Christ.
“In Jesus, hope ultimately triumphs over despair; love ultimately triumphs over hate; and resurrection ultimately triumphs over death. Standing firmly on the pillars of these eternal truths, we look to his words of promise in the Sermon on the Mount, and we recall two beatitudes that speak to the hope we should hold, especially today: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God,’ and ‘Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted’ (Mt 5: 9, 4).”
The Rev. Bryan Massingale of Milwaukee, Wis., spoke with America on July 7 before the apparent reprisal attacks on police. He had watched the latest videos of police shootings of African-American men, at first with a growing sadness at the “gut wrenching” tragedy he was witnessing, then just a sense of “soul weariness.” Father Massingale, the author of Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, worries that many Americans “see each of these as isolated incidents rather than saying this is not a Minnesota problem; this is not a Baton Rouge problem; this is not a Staten Island problem; this is not a Cleveland problem; this is not a Ferguson problem. This is now a national problem.”
He called racism “a profound warping of the human spirit.” Body cameras and better training will contribute to ending unjustified use of deadly force, but Father Massingale argues, “to my mind they are going to be limited and even ineffective if we don’t address these issues as soul issues, and that should be what religious faith and Catholic faith is all about.”
“We are going to keep circling back on this issue unless we confront it at its deepest level and say that there’s a soul sickness that’s present in our nation,” Father Massingale said, “and until we have the willingness to address it, and not just address it rationally but to address it using the best resources of symbol and ritual, we won’t be able to really deal with or get ourselves out of this destructive feedback loop that we’re caught in.”
He issued that appeal just a few hours before the shooting started in Dallas.