Episcopal leaders pray for victims of racism as ex-officer found guilty in killing of George Floyd

By David Paulsen
Posted Apr 20, 2021
George Lloyd mural

A mural memorializing George Floyd and other Black victims of police violence is displayed near the site in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Floyd died May 25 while being taken into police custody. Photo: Paul Lebens-Englund

[Episcopal News Service] The presiding bishop and other Episcopal leaders called for prayer, justice and healing on April 20 as a jury in Minneapolis, Minnesota, found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all three counts of murder and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd. Chauvin’s bail was revoked while he awaits sentencing.

Much of the trial had centered on the eyewitness video that showed Chauvin, who is white, pressing his knee for more than nine minutes into the neck of Floyd, who was Black. Floyd’s death and the video of the killing sparked widespread national protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Episcopalians and church leaders have joined in the calls over the past year for a reckoning with the racism embedded in American institutions after the killing of Floyd, 46, and other victims of violence by police and white vigilantes. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, in a video message released before the Chauvin verdict, said the struggle for justice will continue.

“There is no celebration. Nothing will bring George Floyd back to his family or his community,” Curry said. “Please pray for the soul of George Floyd, for his family, and for everyone everywhere who has suffered because of the sin of racism and oppression.”

Minnesota Bishop Craig Loya issued a statement after the verdict, saying it “will undoubtedly bring a sense of justice, and even relief, to many many people in Minnesota and around the nation.”

“Regardless of the verdict, Mr. Floyd’s murder is a symptom of a deep sickness that infects every one of us, and every institution that makes up the fabric of our common life,” Loya continued. “One verdict, however momentous, will not heal this sickness that lies deep inside us. If we are to be faithful to the call of the Gospel, joining the Spirit’s work of healing and liberation must now form a core part of how we spend the rest of our lives.”

He and other Minnesota Episcopal leaders and Episcopalians planned to attend an ecumenical and interfaith prayer vigil scheduled for 5:45 p.m. CDT at the intersection in Minneapolis where Floyd was killed.

The jury found Chauvin, 45, guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and he faces a prison sentence of up to 40 years on the second-degree murder conviction. Chauvin was one of four officers involved in the attempt to detain Floyd on May 25 after police received a report of a counterfeit $20 bill at a Minneapolis convenience store. In the video of his final minutes alive, Floyd can be heard pleading with the officers, “I can’t breathe.”

The other officers, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, await a separate trial later this year on charges they aided and abetted the killing of Floyd. All four officers were fired after the incident.

Chauvin’s trial lasted for three weeks, with attorneys delivering their closing arguments on April 19. That day, President Joe Biden called Floyd’s family to offer his support. He later said in remarks to reporters that he thought there was “overwhelming” evidence to support a guilty verdict against Chauvin.

The jury – six white jurors, four Black jurors and two who identify as mixed-race – then spent four hours deliberating before breaking for the night. They returned to deliberations in the morning, and news broke midafternoon April 20 that the verdicts were forthcoming. The judge read the verdicts of guilty just after 4 p.m. local time.

Biden praised the verdicts in a national address with Vice President Kamala Harris from the White House. “This can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America,” he said, while acknowledging that such verdicts against police are rare.

Episcopal leaders from across the church issued statements in the hours before and after the reading of the verdicts.

“If this is a victory, it is a victory for the role of law in affirming human dignity,” Atlanta Bishop Rob Wright said in response to the trial’s outcome. “It is a victory for the countless law enforcement officers who embrace accountability and who practice appropriate use of force as they protect and serve without prejudice. Still, justice requires more than sending one man to prison. Justice requires us to acknowledge and change the fact that Black, brown, and poor Americans are often treated differently than other Americans, particularly in encounters with law enforcement and the criminal justice system.”

Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows said in her message after the verdicts that the trial had been “a very personal issue for me, and for many other Black people.”

“I am relieved that Derek Chauvin has been held accountable for the murder of George Floyd. But accountability is not the same thing as justice,” she said. “I am aware of my deep longing for true justice, the kind that becomes possible when people like us promise to stand with the vulnerable and marginalized to transform systems of injustice.”

In the Diocese of New York, Bishop Andrew Dietsche, Bishop Suffragan Allen Shin and Bishop Assistant Mary Glasspool offered hope that the judicial system would “meet the need which all people have for justice.”

“But it is our prayer that, whatever verdict comes, we may as a people remain steadfast in our commitment to work for racial justice. Let us pray for the safety of all people in the hours and days to come,” the bishops said in a written statement before the verdicts.

After the verdicts, Washington Bishop Mariann Budde issued a joint statement with other Episcopal leaders in the nation’s capital.

“While the trauma of George Floyd’s murder remains, today we give thanks that justice has been done,” they said. “We pray for God’s mercy to surround George Floyd’s family and friends as they hold their private grief in the spotlight of an international movement demanding acknowledgement that Black lives matter as much as other lives.”

Curry is expected to participate in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota’s Compline service to be livestreamed on Facebook starting at 8 p.m. CDT.

“Our pain persists and our grief goes on,” Curry said in his video statement before the verdict. “May we not be paralyzed by our pain, our fear, and our anger. May we learn, as the Bible teaches, to ‘love not in word and speech but in truth and in action,’ truth and action that leads to justice and healing.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.