President Murray’s Statement on National Protests, June 3, 2020
MEMORANDUM TO THE MARIST COLLEGE COMMUNITY
FROM: DENNIS J. MURRAY
The last few months have been an extremely distressing time for our nation. First, we experienced the enormous human and financial toll of the coronavirus. Then came the death of George Floyd, resulting in collective outrage and an outpouring of anger. Although current events have affected all members of our college community, they have been particularly painful for our Black students, faculty, and staff.
Like most Americans, I found Floyd’s death deplorable. By now, we’re all familiar with the disturbing video: an unarmed individual suspected of a nonviolent crime is on the ground with his hands handcuffed behind his back and a police officer’s knee on his neck for approximately nine minutes. At the same time, three other police officers stood by and apparently chose not to intervene as Floyd struggled for breath.
This appalling incident has likely violated not only our laws, but fundamental policing practices and basic human decency. The way George Floyd died is unfathomable, and our hearts go out to his family. And as we mourn his death in Minneapolis, we should not forget the death of another African American man, Dave Patrick Underwood, in Oakland, California. An officer in the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service, he was shot last week in front of a U.S. courthouse by an unknown person in a passing car.
As heartbreaking as the Floyd case is, we must acknowledge that it’s not an isolated incident, but rather the latest in a long series of events in which the rights of Black Americans have been violated by individuals sworn to uphold our laws. It doesn’t seem to matter what part of the country it is or which political leaders are in charge. No city is immune to the growing list of names: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Walter Scott, and many more. Because of these recurring incidents, it’s clear to me that we need better laws defining the relationship between police officers and citizens, as well as better standards and training for what is acceptable behavior. The best document I have seen on this subject is the final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
It’s also tragic that groups more interested in anarchy, violence, and looting attempted to highjack the righteous cause of so many peaceful protesters across the nation. It’s heart-rending to see businesses ruined and neighborhoods devastated. In what I thought was a magnanimous statement, Terrence Floyd, while grieving his brother’s death, implored protesters to act peacefully and to go out and vote rather than turn to violence. We should also be grateful to the men and women of law enforcement who prevented the violent agitators from damaging our cities even further.
Our nation must do better. Individually and collectively, we must reflect on how we can improve our current situation and ask hard questions about what we value as a country. But it’s not enough for us to contemplate these issues at the national level. We must also reflect on how we can make Marist a better place for all members of our community. After consulting with various campus groups, I’ll be sending out another communication in the next month on what we can do to improve the climate at Marist. In these difficult times, we pledge to support Black students, faculty, and staff, both as the country addresses its serious challenges and as the College works to further strengthen its sense of community.
We know these societal issues are complicated, and there are many factors at play, including discrimination, poverty, unemployment, and failing schools. But we have a moral responsibility to engage in open, honest discussions and do what we can to address systemic wrongs. It’s not only the right thing to do as a college, it also comports with the values of our founders, the Marist Brothers, a diverse and international Catholic order.
Despite our current challenges, I’m still a great believer in our nation and the American people. I’m confident that our citizens of goodwill will prevail as we address the country’s systemic issues. I also believe that we will ultimately emerge stronger and better able to fulfill our country’s ideals. Those who have given their lives in various ways for this nation demand no less.
Dennis J. Murray