Dear Saint Leo community,
I wanted to take a moment to express how deeply troubled I have been by what I saw in Minneapolis in the case of Mr. George Floyd. The video of the incident, in my view, should compel all Catholics, citizens, and caring people to condemn such an abuse of power. It is clear to me that George Floyd’s unnecessary death in police hands is indicative of the racism that exists in our world. I, for one, am sick and tired of witnessing examples of police officers on the scene of such incidents, failing to act as they should have been trained. While the vast majority of police officers follow their training and strive to both serve and protect us, incidents like these appear to be occurring all too often.
While I was a young person during the 1960s and 1970s, I remember the riots, assassinations, and general turmoil of the times as my mother was a stickler for us watching the news, which made an impact on us. The current riots, looting, and vandalism have a distinct connection to the past in my mind and to the people who are impacted by the actions against them. I do not condone the looting and vandalism, and I strongly support our police, but the relationship between the community and the police needs to evolve in positive ways. The riots are understandable, and clearly many in this country are at the breaking point. The events of the past few days, and to come, are understandable as well. All of this within the context of a pandemic also is difficult and saddening. Even more frustrating is that there is no true effective national leadership for either the response to the pandemic or the systematic racism that exists.
Saint Leo University is a Catholic and Benedictine university. We must, as a consequence, look for ways to serve and to embrace rather than to treat people as “others,” “them,” “those people,” or any other so-called civil language that is really a label of separation. We are all God’s children and deserve the same opportunities and chances. We, as a university, are called to work even more directly to make that so in our communities. We educate thousands of police officers and sheriffs, and we can do better to help them. We must do so! We all are members of this society, and we must connect our work to teach to serve and to make a difference in our communities. I believe we should no longer be comfortable with or unaware of the racial disparities that exist in our justice, health care, education, housing, and a myriad of other areas. We can and must make a difference.
Privilege is deeply engrained in our society, and we need to work now and as a community to recognize this reality and begin a more effective movement forward for our children and children’s children. We can do this as a community of faith and as a university community that values “community,” “respect,” “integrity,” and “excellence.”
I ask us to consider ways each of us can commit to learning more about this situation. Please stand with the people and communities that are most impacted by current events. I also would employ us to stand with good and decent law enforcement professionals and support them to help move to long-term and more lasting solutions. No effort is too big or too small to be an action for change.
It is important that we not allow the actions of individuals’ protests to distract from or overshadow the peaceful protesters who call for justice for George Floyd and his family. The right to protest peacefully and with a purpose is God-given. The violence in protests is born out of frustration, a lack of real action, and a long-term problem that we as a society have failed to address. I do not condone the violence, and I understand why it occurs. I ask all of us to see it in context. Racism is real, and it negatively affects all members of our community, not only the oppressed. I ask us all to do all that we can to work for the end the racism in our society.
This problem is real, and it is our obligation as a Catholic and Benedictine university of national consequence to renew and redouble our efforts to promote justice, peace, and community.
Jeffrey D. Senese, Ph.D.