The Rt. Rev. Andrew M.L. Dietsche, Bishop of New York, writes to the diocese about the grand jury decisions in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner:
Last week, after months of waiting, the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, failed or refused to indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. The days since have seen the shock, anger and heartbreak of millions of Americans given expression across our country. Yesterday, the grand jury on Staten Island failed or refused to indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner and took his life. Again people poured into the streets. Through the night, above our city was heard the sound of helicopters, and everywhere people came together to share their grief and join their voices in outrage.
With no presumption of what verdict might be reached at trial in any particular case, nothing could be clearer than that at a minimum the demands of justice require that any such killings be fully investigated and that everyone involved be held to account. The long and ongoing pattern of refusing to indict police officers who take the lives of people of color, especially black men, continues to communicate to everyone that the lives of these whom we know to be the beloved children of our God do not in fact matter, that they are expendable, that their killings raise no question, and that they can be taken at no cost. What this says to the hearts and spirits of children of color growing up in our cities should break every heart. It breaks mine. And it must be said as well that these non-indictments also cast a shadow across the faithful service of the very many police officers who do their work well and are respectful of the communities they serve. These have been very, very costly days for our country, and now our own city, and costly for those of us who love Jesus and have been made free and strong by the love of God for every single person which we have come to know through him.
Less than two weeks ago at our diocesan convention we passed a resolution calling on every parish to engage the police in their community in conversation to improve and strengthen the bonds of church and police and citizen, that we may find a way to live better and freer together, and in mutual respect and trust. I ask that every parish review that reasonable resolution and take positive steps toward implementing it where you are.
Eric Garner lived and died on Staten Island. The Diocese of New York has ten churches on the island, and we count among our own members men and women from every community on the island. Among them are faithful police officers. Among them are faithful people of every color. We eat together the bread of heaven. We drink from the same cup. I ask your prayers for the clergy and congregations of Christ Church, the Church of the Ascension, Saint Paul’s, Saint Mary’s, Saint Andrew’s, All Saints, Saint Simon’s, Saint John’s, Saint Alban’s and Saint Stephen’s. May God grace them with wisdom and compassion for the days ahead. May God make them brave and strong and faithful for the work of justice-making and healing to come.
A general call has been voiced for people to come today at 5:30 to Foley Square, that we may be together in our frustration, anger and grief. People will gather for different reasons. I will be there to join again in the call for justice, to name before God our brother Eric Garner, and to recommit to the bonds of our shared humanity. Bonds of love. May we, in this hour, be graced to make the witness of our faith, and the love of God, before a city and a world and a people which so desperately needs to reclaim its hope.