Apr 232021

Statement on Police Killings of Black and Brown Citizens

Chicago – April 23, 2021 – We live in a world in which perfect justice is more than illusory. It is impossible. This means that for every victory in the cause of a just world, we have reason for celebration. We celebrate not at the expense of the lost lives of George Floyd and so many others, but at the prospect that their deaths might not be an omen of endless mourning. The conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin is just a time for such celebration—a celebration that a Black life extinguished before our eyes did not join the long list of lost lives dismissed by false presumptions of absolute authority of police in matters of life and death. All of the religious traditions that are a part of Chicago Theological Seminary have sacred stories of such hubris.

At the same moment that we breathe a sigh of relief that for at least one life the annihilating power of lethal arrogance did not erase its meaning, we simultaneously groan from the depths of our being, wondering how long it will continue. Since the closing arguments in Chauvin case, three lives of Black and Brown people—two children—have been needlessly lost to police violence: Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, Adam Toledo (13 years old) in Chicago, IL and Ma’Khia Bryant (16 years old) in Columbus, OH. A fourth, Andrew Brown, was lost after the verdict was delivered. While the circumstances of each case were different, what remains constant and is too often the norm, is the escalation to lethal force by police officers.

This presumptive posture of too many police officers represents an explicit devaluation of Black and Brown lives—a devaluation which contemplates no meaningful future for these lives too soon snuffed out. This posture is abhorrent to everything we at Chicago Theological Seminary hold to be true. Certainly, we are aware that there are instances in which lethal response is required by police officers to protect citizens and themselves. What we want to question is why there is a blatant inequality in assessing these situations when they involve the lives of Black and Brown people.

Why are police forces across the nation routinely able to arrest armed mass murderers who present as white without incident and yet are prone to lethal violence when confronted with unarmed, or lesser armed, Black and Brown people?

The conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd is a fleeting moment in which some semblance of justice was achieved. We need to be clear that it is but an instance. There remains a fundamental problem in policing in the United States. Put simply, too many police departments and too many officers take their task to be the “policing” of some communities and the “protection” of others. When this commonsense is joined with the militarization of police departments, the consequences are too often lethal for Black and Brown communities.

In this season in which we have seen that justice is possible, we at Chicago Theological Seminary call upon municipal, state, and federal governments to dedicate themselves to the simple idea of justice for all. We call upon police departments across the nation, to practice equal application of the law to all communities, no matter their color. Finally, we call upon our entire legal system to make accountability to the communities they serve the central tenet of their operation.

President Stephen G. Ray Jr.