PROVIDENCE — In the wake of a number of horrifying incidents this summer in which both civilians and law enforcement officers have been killed in violent encounters from Minneapolis to Dallas to Baton Rouge, La., the diocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry is encouraging the faithful from across Rhode Island to join in a national effort to pray for the Blessed Mother’s intercession for “an end to racial injustice, terrorism and other attacks on the dignity of human life.”
On Wednesday, Aug. 3, at noon EDT, everyone throughout the country is welcome to join together in praying a “Rosary Across America for Peace and Racial Harmony,” by dialing 1-641-715-3580 and entering Access Code 951981.
Patty January, coordinator of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry, is hoping to encourage as many people as possible to come together in prayer during the event. At the chancery, where her office is located, she plans to invite diocesan staff to fill a conference room as they dial in on Aug. 3 to pray for peace and justice.
“With all the unrest and violence happening we need to come together as a people of faith in prayer for those who have lost their loved ones and for the souls of all those who have lost their lives at the hands of violence, however it may have happened,” January said.
Across the nation, tensions began to rise on July 5 when two Baton Rouge, La., police officers, Howie Lake II and Blane Salamoni, were involved in a shooting which killed Alton Sterling, 37, an African-American, in Baton Rouge. The police had been called to the scene to investigate a report of a man threatening another with a handgun.
After using a Taser on the suspect in an attempt to subdue him, the officers tackled Sterling to the ground. In the moments that followed, officers could be heard in video taken of the incident that they believed Sterling may have been reaching for a gun. Several shots then rang out and Sterling died of his injuries.
That evening, more than 100 demonstrators gathered in Baton Rouge to protest the killing of Sterling at the hands of police.
The next day, July 6, the same day that the group Black Lives Matter held a vigil in Baton Rouge to protest Sterling’s death, Philando Castile, a 32-year-old African-American man, was shot four times and killed by police officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb.
Images of a dying Castile were streamed live on Facebook by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, as she and the couple’s four-year-old daughter sat in the car for several minutes as the officer kept his weapon trained on the bleeding Castile, who had disclosed at the start of the traffic stop that he had a permit to carry a pistol that was concealed on him.
The next day, July 7, four Dallas police officers (Patrick Zamarripa, 32; Lorne Ahrens, 48; Michael Smith, 55; and Michael Krol, 40), and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer (Brent Thompson, 43) were killed, and seven other officers and two civilians sustained serious injuries when Micah Johnson, 25, an African American U.S. Army veteran, opened fire with the intent to kill white law enforcement personnel during a large but peaceful protest in Dallas to condemn the police shootings of Sterling and Castile.
Officers cornered Johnson, who admitted he carried out the horrific crime as retribution for his perceived harsh treatment by police of African-Americans, in a downtown building.
In an effort to avoid any further bloodshed — with the cornered Johnson still firing at police and vowing to kill more officers that day — the city’s African-American police chief, David Brown, authorized officers to neutralize the suspect. They used a remote controlled robot to detonate in the vicinity of Johnson a block of plastic explosives, killing him.
Ten days later, on July 17, violence returned to the streets of Baton Rouge when Gavin Long, an African- American from Kansas City, Mo., traveled to Louisiana seeking revenge for the earlier shootings of African-Americans by police.
On Sunday morning, his 29th birthday, Long ambushed law enforcement officers responding to a call of a man with a gun just a few blocks from police headquarters. He shot and killed two Baton Rouge police officers — Montrell Jackson, 32 and Matthew Gerald, 41 — along with East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Garafola, 45.
The nation reeled in the aftermath of so much violence, which focused a renewed spotlight on race relations.
On July 18 the National Association of Black Catholic Administrators issued a statement strongly condemning the “continuing disproportionate use of excessive and deadly force against Black men and women by law enforcement and any attacks on law enforcement officers in the United States.”
“Racial bias in law enforcement must be addressed and eliminated and we must speak and act against any harm being done to law enforcement officers,” the statement read.
Pamela Harris, president of the National Association of Black Catholic Administrators, which was founded in 1976 to provide a forum for administrators to gather and share their collective resources to effectively address the spiritual needs, issues and concerns facing the African American communities they serve, said the organization is outraged at the recent events that cost so many lives.
“We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are directly affected by these tragedies,” Harris said. “We need to come together as a people of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, to not only put an end to this violence but to change the current laws on the books regarding excessive force.”
She also condemned the “vicious and brutal attacks” on Dallas and Baton Rouge law enforcement.
“This is not the appropriate action to take as we seek to find common ground between law enforcement and communities,” she said.
For those seeking peace between the different races, Harris advocates the invocation of prayerful intercession to St. Martin de Porres, patron saint for those seeking racial harmony.
She also encourages citizen activism, in forms ranging from letter writing to newspapers and politicians, to boycotts and peaceful rallies, street marches, strikes and sit-ins.
“Let us recall the words of Pope Francis: ‘May the God of peace arouse in all an authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence cannot be overcome with violence. Violence is overcome with peace,’” Harris said.
The nation’s bishops also have expressed their concern over the spiraling violence and the issue of race at its core.
Last week, Baton Rouge Bishop Robert W. Muench called for a week of community prayer, fasting and reflection across his diocese in response to the multiple shootings.
Also, on July 21, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops appointed Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta to serve as chair of a newly formed task force charged with guiding the U.S. bishops in dealing with racial issues stemming from the shootings.
The task force will assist in gathering and disseminating supportive resources and suggesting “best practices” for their fellow bishops to follow. The members will actively listen to the concerns of members in troubled communities, as well as law enforcement and work to strengthen relationships between the two to resolve conflicts. The task force will conclude its work by submitting a report on its activities and offer recommendations for future work during the bishops’ November General Assembly.
“I am honored to lead this task force which will assist my brother bishops, individually and as a group, to accompany suffering communities on the path toward peace and reconciliation,” Archbishop Gregory said. “We are one body of Christ, so we must walk with our brothers and sisters and renew our commitment to promote healing. The suffering is not somewhere else, or someone else’s; it is our own, in our very dioceses.”
In appointing the Task Force, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the USCCB, also called for a National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities to be celebrated on Sept. 9, the feast of St. Peter Claver. The Day of Prayer will serve as a focal point for the work of the task force.
In the Diocese of Providence, Black Catholic Ministry Coordinator January feels that these are all steps being taken in the right direction in order to draw open the curtain on a problem that has not been sufficiently addressed through the years.
“I am so disheartened by the violence and destruction we have experienced, not only as a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, but as a concerned member of this great nation,” she said.
“I have great concern for all my sisters and brothers and it is only by coming together in prayer will hearts change and those in leadership positions seek to begin to practice justice and respect for all human beings. In these past few years we as a nation have shed much blood and tears,” January said.
“The great question is ‘When will it stop?’ No one knows the answer but prayer will bring about a change and only our loving Lord Jesus Christ God of our nation will being all this to an end.”