Let’s Talk: Too Many Lives Lost

The latest reflection organized by Assistant to the President for Mission Integration Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos:

While the Office of Mission Integration has put a pause on sending weekly videos to devote time to work on numerous projects related to our return to campus, our Jesuit and Mercy mission makes it impossible to remain silent in light of recent events around our country. Both the communities of the Religious Sisters of Mercy and the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus have made an explicit commitment to combat what the US Catholic Bishops have clearly named as “the sin of racism”. In the words of the bishops, “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same God.” (USCCB, 1979)

The recent video of the death of another unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis police officers has led to days of protest that have turned violent. Mr. Floyd was at a deli attempting to buy groceries when a caller reported that he was attempting to pay with a counterfeit $20 bill. Nothing about this suggests he was any kind of threat and yet he died with a police officer’s knee to his neck as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe.”

The video of Mr. Floyd’s death comes at the heels of another video of the shooting another unarmed black man, Ahmaud Arbery, whose only crime appears to be that of “jogging while black.” Mr. Arbery was killed in February and his killers were not taken into custody until this month. It was only national outrage after a video was recently released of his shooting that led to the arrest of a former police officer and his son.

Compare this to the arrest of Kenneth Walker, whose girlfriend Breonna Taylor was shot dead in her own bed by police who forcibly entered the wrong home while searching for a narcotics suspect. Mr. Walker was charged with attempted murder for shooting at what he assumed were intruders invading their home. Charges were dropped against Mr. Walker only after national protests against his arrest.

The continued devaluing of black lives, of black and brown bodies, has become unbearably clear over these past months, not only because of these three overt acts of violence. It also has become clear in the ways that this pandemic has revealed the reality that while some jobs have been deemed “essential,” the people who do these jobs have been treated as expendable. Meat processing plants have been allowed to stop reporting on the cases of coronavirus outbreaks rather than compelled to ensure the safety of workers. Grocery store workers have lost hazard pay that augmented their meager salaries. Many of us have been able to stay safe in our homes because companies like Amazon and Instacart have hired hundreds of thousands of workers at relatively low wages who continue to expose themselves to the virus. These jobs are disproportionately done by people of color.

The impact of a long history of institutionalized racism is revealed for all to see during this pandemic as African-Americans, Native Peoples, and Latinx are dying at disproportionate rates from the virus. This pandemic and the over two months of major disruption to what we have known as normal also gives us an opportunity to imagine and birth a radically different and new normal. The light that is being shed on the persistence of racism that kills and the profound social inequities that has left millions (and billions if you think global) in increasingly desperate situations calls on us to respond.

We, as Detroit Mercy employees and students, a community whose work is guided by a mission grounded in a commitment to anti-racism, are called to respond. How will the realities of racial and social inequities in our community inform how we respond? How will we teach and learn so as to be agents of change in our world? These are the questions we are being invited to ask as we continue to plan our return to our campuses.

In solidarity,

Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos