Board Statement in Response to Ferguson, Missouri and New York City Police Killing Cases
(inspired by statements from WILPF & Pax Christi, with contributions from Board members Ed Brett, Michael Drohan, Chris Mason, and Jonah McAllister-Erickson)
“There are crimes which no one would commit as an individual which he willingly and bravely commits when acting in the name of his society, because he has been (too easily) convinced that evil is entirely different when it is done ‘for the common good.’…one might point to the way in which racial hatreds and even persecution are admitted by people who consider themselves, and perhaps in some sense are, kind, tolerant, civilized and even humane.” – Thomas Merton
The Thomas Merton Center is dedicated to ensuring equal rights and justice for all individuals, and we are shocked by the increased number of escalated, violent police interactions with civilians, which has caused the tragic and unnecessary deaths of too many people, particularly men and youth of color.
The Thomas Merton Center stands in solidarity with all those who have lost loved ones due to police violence. What happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO is happening all over the country to African-American young men: 12-year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland with his toy gun, who was gunned down two seconds after a police officer arrived; Eric Garner in Staten Island whose suspected crime of selling untaxed cigarettes resulted in his being strangled to death by a police officer; Akai Gurley killed by police while innocently walking down his apartment steps; Jonny Gammage killed by police after a routine traffic stop here in Pittsburgh. Sadly, we could go on and on. Police brutality towards young men of color is standard fare in America. Racial profiling by police has been an ongoing serious problem that must finally be addressed. People of color are stopped, arrested, tried, convicted and given long sentences – disproportionately to their crime rate.
Deaths of civilians killed by police are estimated to be one for every day of the year. In some communities, people are in more danger from the police than any other group. Our police forces have been militarized in the way they are equipped and trained, with such force being deployed mainly in minority and poorer communities, and they too often use military style tactics when it is not warranted.
And when a member of the police force breaks the law, it is the duty of our justice system to hold them accountable. By not holding individuals on the police force accountable, a culture of tolerance for violence amongst police, and distrust of them by those they are “to protect and serve,” thrives.
We call for increased communication between local police forces and community members to ensure proper procedures are being followed, that members of the police force are not targeting civilians for arbitrary reasons, influenced by racism or classism, and demand that no one’s Constitutional rights be stripped away because they are a person of color, “look suspicious” and/or live in a poor community.
The people of Ferguson and New York, as well as communities all across our country, are rightfully angry, and they have a right to peacefully demonstrate and speak out against the systemic racism that is pervasive in most institutions, not just the justice system. Protesters have a right to engage in nonviolent expression without intimidation from law enforcement. Police have a duty to nonviolently help to defuse tension where necessary, without recourse to overtly militant and provocative actions, including the use of tear gas and pepper spray.
With the present confluence of events bringing national awareness to key problems, we need to define the true nature of the issues in order to address them. The criminalization of people of color, police use of unwarranted excessive force, a broken justice system, and structural racism and classism are serious problems that we urgently need to address openly and constructively.
We cannot behave as though certain lives do not matter enough. We must actively commit to creating and sustaining a culture of peace and cooperation, not violence and division.