May 30, 2020
Yale Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling issued the following statement today:
There are events that touch us profoundly. Anyone who has seen the video is haunted by the image of George Floyd being held down by a police officer who has planted his knee on Floyd’s neck and who holds it there for more than eight minutes, taunting him while Floyd cries that he cannot breathe. We watched as those on the sidewalk shouted to the police officers, pointing out Floyd’s plight—all to deaf ears until Floyd lay dead. Why? Why do those who take an oath to protect and to serve become the instruments of death? Based on the video it is hard to see this as anything less than the third-degree murder with which the ex-officer has been justly charged.
The response has been national—understandably. It would be horrible enough if this were an isolated case, but we all know that it is not. The expressions of pain that we see and hear across the country today come in response not only to the murder of Floyd, but to hundreds of years of systemic abuse of people of color and to the repeated instances of police brutality against black and brown people. We know their names and remember the footage: Eric Garner, who was placed in an unlawful chokehold in New York City (July 17, 2014) and, like George Floyd, protested as he was dying that he could not breathe; Michael Brown, who was shot while unarmed in Ferguson, MO (August 4, 2014); Walter Scott, who was shot in the back as he ran away from a traffic stop in North Charleston, SC (April 4, 2015); Freddie Gray, who was assaulted in custody and died a week later in Baltimore, MD (April 12, 2015); Sandra Bland, who died in a jail cell three days after her pretextual arrest in Waller County, TX (July 13, 2015); Philando Castile, who was shot in his car while searching for an ID in Falcon Heights, MN (July 7, 2016); Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot by private citizens while jogging in Brunswick, GA (February 23, 2020); and Breonna Taylor, who was killed by officers in Louisville, KY, when they entered her apartment on a “no-knock” warrant (March 13, 2020). This list goes on. We have all seen the videos and remember them vividly.
We are aghast and appalled. Yet at the same time, we know this is not simply an issue of police violence; it is an issue of systemic racism. During the current pandemic, the hospitalization and death rates for Black and Latinx populations in Connecticut are two to four times higher than they are for whites: for every 100,000 people in our state, 233 blacks have been hospitalized, 138 Hispanics, and 60 whites; for every 100,000 people 51 blacks have died, 22 Hispanics, and 21 whites (Roadmap for reopening Connecticut from Governor Lamont, p. 15). The CDC has noted a similar pattern nationally (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/racial-…). These statistics are deeply unsettling; they point to the reality that police violence and health disparities are part of the same larger problem.
The current pandemic is forcing us to rethink many things about life. We need to rethink racial relations and commit ourselves to making the necessary systemic changes to address not only police brutality against black males but the underlying racism that COVID-19 has confirmed. We need to hear and acknowledge the cries of pain in our black communities. We believe that Black Lives Matter. It is time for each of us, and for our society and world, to make that statement more than words.
Gregory E. Sterling
The Reverend Henry L. Slack Dean
Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament
May 30, 2020