A person at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis reacts April 20, 2021, after jurors issued their verdict convicting former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Floyd. (CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters)

“It’s the relief of seeing that a Black person cannot be summarily executed by an agent of the state without consequence,” Gloria Purvis said in an interview with America, responding to the verdict on April 20 in the trial for the murder of George Floyd last spring.

M. T. Dávila commented: “It took a public lynching of a Black man for over nine minutes for a conviction to be arrived at by a jury,” she said. “That’s just absolutely heartbreaking.”

For trial watchers, weeks of dread and anxiety may have been rewarded with a breath of relief—but not quite what anyone would describe as justice. Relieved or not over the decision to convict Derek Chauvin on all three charges of murder and manslaughter, many understand that the slow work of confronting racism in the United States continues at an often soul-draining pace. “I am hopeful that it’s possible,” said Kim Harris. “But I know that it will take a long time. It’s hard to say if that will happen in my lifetime.”

“It’s the relief of seeing that a Black person cannot be summarily executed by an agent of the state without consequence.”

The bravery of 17-year-old Darnella Frazier provoked a potent public reckoning with racism and a deadly police culture in the United States, said the Rev. Bryan N. Massingale. “I am less confident,” he added, “that this is going to be a watershed moment for the Catholic Church. I believe there is a greater willingness in civil society to address issues of police misconduct than I see in the U.S. Catholic leadership.”

The day after judgment was reached in the murder trial, I reached out to seven prominent public intellectuals and commentators on race and the Catholic Church—Gloria Purvis, Anthea Butler, Father Massingale, Shannen Dee Williams, Dr. Harris, Dr. Dávila and Jeremy V. Cruz—to receive their reactions to the verdict in Minneapolis.

The following text has been edited for clarity, length and style.


Gloria Purvis

Catholic commentator

I was on edge coming up to the verdict—relieved and shocked, all at the same time. Did this really happen? Am I hearing this? Is this real? It’s the relief of seeing that a Black person cannot be summarily executed by an agent of the state without consequence.

We still have more work to do to convert, really, the United States of America; help it understand what proper policing looks like—one that cares for and respects the human person.

How is it that any Catholic, who says they believe the church’s teaching about human dignity, would find former officer Chauvin’s behavior justifiable? In the case of George Floyd, and Black people more generally, how could white people look upon that level of brutality and ever believe that it was justifiable?

How is it that any Catholic, who says they believe the church’s teaching about human dignity, would find former officer Chauvin’s behavior justifiable?

People forget that he was innocent and he had a right to due process, to be alive to defend himself in our justice system; a right that Chauvin had and was able to exercise. I think people forget that police have a duty to preserve the lives of the people in their custody.

I believe all of us—from the bishops, from the priests, from our Catholic media, among our own families, from our catechists—we all have a responsibility to discuss the sin of racism and its deleterious effects on us individually, communally, nationally and spiritually.

People must understand that racism is a sin. It rends the bonds of the human family, so much so that people can look upon the brutalization of a member of the human family, like Mr. Floyd, and instead of saying, “Oh my gosh, this should not happen to anyone.” They think, “What did he do?” Because in their minds, clearly, he did something to deserve that treatment. No one deserves that kind of brutality.

I want to encourage my fellow Black Catholic brothers and sisters to remember that we are members of the church, too. We shouldn’t allow other people to run us out of the church. When we see callousness toward our lives, we must recognize that person’s soul is in jeopardy.

I want to encourage my fellow Black Catholic brothers and sisters to remember that we are members of the church, too. We shouldn’t allow other people to run us out of the church.

We are trying to preserve our own mental and spiritual well-being. I want to encourage us in that regard. Let us take some solace though in this burden, this cross, of inviting others to see the image of God in our Blackness. We should remember that the work of conversion continues. I’m right there with you. And more important, so is Jesus because the Lord wants the human family to be healed. The Lord wants the demon of racism to be expelled from our country.

I’m hoping that any clergy who did not defend the humanity of George Floyd will take that to prayer. If they were silent, did they consider the flock needed a strong witness championing Mr. Floyd’s dignity? Did they place more value on the loss of human property than on the loss of human life? Did they seek a comfortable peace without the labor of justice? I’m hoping they will do some interior inspection, reflection, and have a moment of conversion on this as well.


Anthea Butler

Interim chair of religious studies and associate professor of religion and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania

While the guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial is a welcome change from the injustices of the judicial system with regard to police killings, we should not consider this a victory. Rather, it is a brief respite, as we saw last night with the shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by police.

This unending cycle of violence by law enforcement in America feels like an unending war, in which there is no end in sight, nor an answer from God.


The Rev. Bryan N. Massingale

Professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University in New York, president-elect of The Society of Christian Ethics and the author of Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Orbis, 2010)

When the verdict was announced, it was really a moment of vindication: Finally—a jury in America decided that Black people were telling the truth about our experience of police officers and policing in America. Finally, America was beginning to hear what Black people have been saying; that something is radically wrong with the culture of policing in the country.

I hope this will be a watershed moment in the country’s engagement with its tragic history of racism and in examining police behavior and calling for better training of our police officers.

I hope this will be a watershed moment in the country’s engagement with its tragic history of racism and in examining police behavior and calling for better training of our police officers.

I am less confident that this is going to be a watershed moment for the Catholic Church. I believe there is a greater willingness in civil society to address issues of police misconduct than I see in the U.S. Catholic leadership.

Look at the bishops’ 2018 pastoral letter “Open Wide Our Hearts.” The bishops simply say that some of our citizens have encounters with the police that leave them fearful. That document never discusses African-Americans who have been killed at the hands of law enforcement. The letter didn’t even mention Black Lives Matter—either the phrase or the movement—despite the fact that the Black Lives Matter movement has been a major force in this country since 2013. The decision to not mention the major catalyst for racial justice must have been a deliberate one on the part of the bishops.

If the Catholic Church in the United States is serious about dealing with racism, it needs to do two things: First, embrace the teaching of Pope Francis, that anti-racism is an essential dimension of being pro-life and that we cannot have pro-life activism without an active commitment to anti-racism. Second, engage in a proactive process of listening to the radically different experiences of its Black and Brown members. Many believe that the Catholic Church’s majority-white ordained leadership of clergy and bishops is unable or unwilling to have such listening encounters. Until this happens, our church will never be serious about confronting the sin and scandal of racism in the U.S.

We need to face a similar truth as a nation. Our culture of policing persists because a majority of white Americans are willing to tolerate it. African-American and Latinx activists have been raising profound questions about police misconduct for the last 50 years. Yet there has never been a national commitment to have an honest examination of its policing culture.

I remind African-Americans that the struggle for justice is a relay race. We may not be the ones to cross the finish line of a racially just society.

One can only conclude that there has been no political will from the majority white electorate to demand substantial change in the culture of policing. Until that happens, we cannot be surprised when unjustified killings of unarmed persons of color continue to be an outrageous epidemic in American society.

I remind African-Americans that the struggle for justice is a relay race. We may not be the ones to cross the finish line of a racially just society. Still, it is up to us to continue in that struggle; both to honor those who have gone before us in this fight and for the sake of our children, who will continue the work that we are now doing.

We are part of the communion of saints; what the author of the letter to the Hebrews calls “a great cloud of witnesses.” Now that we are surrounded by the cloud of witnesses, let us press on and continue the race, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hb 12:1-2). That’s the Scripture that sustains me in my work for justice.


Shannen Dee Williams

Assistant professor of history at Villanova University.

I offer continued prayers for the soul of George Floyd, his family and all victims of state violence.

There was never a possibility of justice in this case, only accountability. If we lived in a just society, George Floyd would still be alive and the witnesses to his murder, like Darnella Frazier, would be able to sleep comfortably at night. If we lived in a truly just society, we would not have been worried about the verdict in a trial of a man who murdered another human being on camera. If we lived in a just society, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, Ma’Khia Bryant, Breonna Taylor, Rekia Boyd, Ahmaud Arbery and so many more would be alive today.

It is also important to remember that this saga is not over. The presiding judge will sentence Chauvin in eight weeks. We must continue to pray that our legal system will hold him fully accountable for murdering a fellow human being.

If we lived in a just society, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, Ma’Khia Bryant, Breonna Taylor, Rekia Boyd, Ahmaud Arbery and so many more would be alive today.

We must also continue to work to reform and if necessary, dismantle the systems of power that produce the racial inequalities and injustices that we see and experience in policing, health care, education, housing, voting access and life outcomes. A just and equitable society and world is possible. Until then, the fight continues.


Kim Harris

Assistant professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, Calif.

Even before the verdict was about to come in, I just found myself weeping. And then when it finally did come in, I was relieved. I felt like I could breathe again. But I was weeping first of all for George Floyd’s family. Even as I might feel jubilation and relief for them, he’s still dead. This does not bring him back.

I feel that accountability was served. But, justice? It’s going to take a long way toward justice.

I feel that accountability was served. But, justice? It’s going to take a long way toward justice.

Justice is about right relationships, and we have a long way to go to right relationships. But this is a beginning because we can’t even start unless we have some kind of accountability. We have to get to the root of what is happening in our culture and understand that only a change in culture is going to really help us move to being anti-racist.

We need to examine our individual consciences, but we also have to examine, collectively, our church conscience. We have to continue to think about how our church has been complicit in slavery and white supremacy up until this day, then think about the cultural and, for us, ecclesial kinds of racism and white supremacy that we have to deal with.

We have to really get at the root of that. That will help us become more anti-racist, but we have a long way to go. I am hopeful that it’s possible, but I know that it will take a long time. It’s hard to say if that will happen in my lifetime.

Our church, as Father Bryan Massingale reminds us in Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Orbis, 2010), has resources to bring about an anti-racist culture. We can lament. We need to lament. We have our process—examination of conscience, contrition, penance, reparation and reconciliation—and that process, on a large scale, can help us think about some steps that we might need to take.

We need to not just pass over the moments of rejoicing because we absolutely need to do that for self-care. But then we need to continue our work.

As a Black woman, I want to say this to my community, echoing the words of Dr. Melina Abdullah, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement in Los Angeles: We need to be sure to take some moments of rejoicing, even though we know there is much to do. We need to not just pass over the moments of rejoicing because we absolutely need to do that for self-care. But then we need to continue our work.


María Teresa (MT) Dávila

Visiting associate professor of practice in religious and theological studies at Merrimack College, Massachusetts

I look at people whose first words are “relief” and I envy them. I wish that had been my reaction.

It took a public lynching of a Black man for over nine minutes for a conviction to be arrived at by a jury. That’s just absolutely heartbreaking.

It could be a turning point. It could be a moment that we’ll look back and say, “Here’s where that began—where those transformational changes that are so desperately needed began.” But we need to walk that road first.

I look at people whose first words are “relief” and I envy them. I wish that had been my reaction.

We cannot think of this verdict in isolation, this verdict goes hand in hand with the murder of Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio. They are paired moments in Black lives in the U.S. They go together.

That leads me to a deep, profound concern for Black and Brown and Asian youth in the U.S. They are really questioning whether we have built a society that honors their humanity. There’s an underlayer of nihilism, almost saying that the society that we have built is one that is closed off to the suffering of the youth and closed off to the lives of the youth and the right to life of youth, especially Black and Brown youth.

After Tuesday’s shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant, my thoughts were, “What if we had an alternative ‘emergency response system’?” The Black Panthers did that in Berkeley [in the 1960s and 1970s]; they did it with alternative schools, alternative day programs for their kids—feeding them, cleaning up parks, helping people with housing. The Young Lords did it in Puerto Rican neighborhoods in Chicago and New York. Is it time for Black Americans to say: “Thank you, we got this; we got our youth. We will be our own 911 until you get your shit together. We are the ones that are gonna do this”?

The Catholic Church has this right-to-life mentality, this right-to-life slogan, but we use it quite selectively and only when certain key issues come up in the public square. And I think we can maybe take it and subvert it and talk about the right to life of our youth, the right to life of Black and Brown youth who are right now in many places the majority of students in elementary Catholic schools.

We don’t subtract that from the church as an institution, and we don’t subtract that from our theology, simply by saying we are an anti-racist institution.

We as a church need to understand our embeddedness in these dynamics of racial domination, conquest, enslavement, trafficking of human beings for hundreds of years in the Americas, acts that were blessed by the church. We don’t subtract that from the church as an institution, and we don’t subtract that from our theology, simply by saying we are an anti-racist institution. It doesn’t happen that way. So there’s a lot of hard work that’s going to need to happen.

This is a church that still has not had its reckoning, made its repentance and reconciliation from the child sexual abuse crisis, right? To think that that institution is somehow going to get hundreds and hundreds of years of being an agent of racist and violent structures of colonialism and conquest, that it is going to be the one that’s going to turn the tide or even present options for turning the tide, is a tall order. We are going to need to find a more expansive understanding of whose voice we take as an authority on this. And it can’t be the bishops. They need to say that the authority on this issue needs to go to Black, Brown, Asian, Native, L.G.B.T.Q. theologians and activists and leaders in our church.


Jeremy V. Cruz

Associate professor of theology and religious studies, St. John’s University

Watching the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, I shifted from prolonged anxiety to momentary relief when Chauvin was found guilty to the numbness that follows seemingly endless periods of heightened alert.

When did any of this begin, and when does it end? How long, O Lord? Growing up an hour’s drive from Los Angeles, I have visceral memories of the trial of four L.A.P.D. officers in 1992, following their brutal beating of Rodney King. As I turned 11 years old, I watched the trial and ensuing riots on TV, consuming hours of images and narratives that resurfaced in my body in recent weeks, along with old feelings of fear, vulnerability and anger.

In the face of such despair, I find hope in young Darnella Frazier’s courageous video recording of Chauvin’s murderous actions and in her testimony.

My childhood despair also resurfaced as I witnessed militarized police and national guard troops deployed against working-class communities of color as a “precaution” in advance of the Chauvin trial verdict. This despite ample evidence that occupation by security forces provokes rather than prevents social unrest and that repression of free assembly and free speech causes long-term harms.

In the face of such despair, I find hope in young Darnella Frazier’s courageous video recording of Chauvin’s murderous actions and in her testimony. Without her bravery, the details surrounding George Floyd’s murder would have likely been buried by police department narratives and ruling class media priorities. Frazier stepped forward bravely and responsibly to answer the question: “Who polices the police?”

Local jurisdictions and states have never “policed the police” to ensure human rights. This leaves us two alternatives. The subsidiarity option: We pressure the federal government to exercise its legitimate role in “subsidizing” and/or regulating local efforts to reconstruct policing. Or the equity option: We defund and minimize the violence of policing in favor of equitable investments in public safety, public health and economic security policies proven to save lives. This solution acknowledges just how little police labor currently goes into the work of violence prevention and intervention. In this option, we also accept that policing, as we have always known it, cannot coexist with deep and genuine democracy.

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