CNA Staff, Jun 25, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- As police reform legislation is currently stuck in the Senate, leading U.S. bishops wrote members of Congress on Wednesday outlining Catholic principles of policing.
Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, and Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux sent a joint letter to members of Congress on Wednesday “in the wake of the terrible and unjust killing of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and so many more.”
While many might wish for peace during the present unrest, there can be no true peace without justice, the bishops said.
“When protesters shout, ‘No justice, no peace,’ perhaps without realizing it, they are paraphrasing an axiom of the Church,” the letter said. “A police force that is accountable to its highest standards – discipline, self-control, mercy, and the recognition that every person is made in the image of God – can promote justice and thus bring about peace.”
The three bishops hold key positions within the U.S. bishops’ conference. Archbishop Coakley chairs the domestic justice committee, Bishop Dorsonville chairs the migration committee, and Bishop Fabre chairs the anti-racism committee. In their letter, they wrote that the deaths of Floyd, Brooks, and others have exposed the need for serious reform and accountability in policing.
While acknowledging the purpose of law enforcement “to promote justice and the common good in society,” the bishops wrote on Wednesday that “it is clear that there have been too many failures in serving everyone, with tragic consequences.”
Reform is necessary, they urged, “so that real accountability can happen before more lives are lost.”
The letter comes as the Senate failed to pass the JUSTICE Act, sponsored by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) on Wednesday in the wake of mass protests against racism and police brutality in recent weeks.
Scott’s bill would fund jurisdictions that implement de-escalation tactics, would end the use of chokeholds, would put more body cameras on officers, and pushed departments to investigate prior disciplinary history of officer candidates, among other policies.
However, Senate Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus said the legislation was “insufficient” and the bill failed to receive the necessary 60 votes for floor consideration. House Democrats have introduced their own legislation, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which among other things would ban racial profiling by police, ban chokeholds, prohibit no-knock warrants in drug cases, eliminate qualified immunity for officers, ban limit access of local departments to military equipment, and amend the standards for federal civil rights lawsuits to “reckless” from “willful” police misconduct.
President Trump signed an executive order on police reform on June 16, but Democrats also argued that it did not go far enough.
Racism, the bishops wrote on Wednesday, “remains a problem in the criminal justice system.”
They cited previous letters by the conference on the matter, drawing attention to disproportionately harsh treatment of people of color by police or the fear of many in the African-American community of interactions with police officers given the number of police killings of African-Americans.
In their letter, the bishops quoted Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “[w]hen a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility.”
The bishops encouraged several policies currently under consideration including “collection of data on use-of-force, training towards de-escalation, work to end racial profiling, doing away with chokeholds,” as well as “using body cameras.”
Pope Francis has spoken out about the current unrest in the U.S. praying for the repose of the soul of George Floyd on June 3.
“We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life. At the same time, we have to recognize that the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating,” the pope said.
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