The Pandemic, Racism, Protests, And Systematic Evil

The Pandemic, Racism, Protests, And Systematic Evil June 11, 2020

Guettarda: George Floyd protests in East Lansing, Michiga /Wikimedia Commons

At the Angelus on June 7, 2020, Pope Francis rejoiced in the fact that Italy was recovering from the COVID19 pandemic and people were able to be in his presence in St. Peter’s Square. However, he also understood that the pandemic was far from over. He indicated how it was continuing to spread and kill at a fast rate in many countries. He said we should not believe that we have obtained victory against the coronavirus:

I greet you all, Romans and pilgrims: individual faithful, families, and religious communities. And also your presence in the square is a sign that in Italy the acute phase of the epidemic is over – but be careful, do not sing “Victory!” yet, do not celebrate victory too soon! It remains necessary to follow the rules in force carefully, because they are rules that help us to prevent the virus from gaining ground. Thanks to God we are coming out of it stronger, but always with the prescriptions given to us by the authorities. But unfortunately in other countries – I am thinking of some of them – the virus continues to claim many victims. Last Friday, in one country, one person died every minute! Terrible. I wish to express my closeness to those populations, to the sick and their families, and to all those who care for them. With our prayer, let us be close to them.[1]

As Pope Francis indicated, it is necessary for us to take the virus seriously, to follow the rules which have been established to keep us safe. This means that we must exercise caution in what we do. We must not assume that the fight against the virus is over just because we have won some major battles. The danger is not gone. We must not act like everything is normal. If we, we find the virus coming back in the communities which seemed to have it under control, and the little victories we have had halting its progress will prove to have been only temporary as its deadly presence once again makes itself known by those it kills in its path.

Indeed, if we look across the United States, where we find many States assumed that they could start opening up and returning things to normal, it is clear, the virus is taking the opportunities given to it to once again reveal itself to be a major threat. So far, over two million Americans have been known to have contacted the virus, and over a hundred and thirteen thousand have died. Those States, like Arizona, which opened up a few weeks ago, are now experiencing an alarming increase in COVID19 patients in hospitals, indicating how far we are from truly containing it. It is likely we will have a second peak showing up soon in at least twelve States, and probably far more, if precautions taken at the start of the pandemic do not continue. This is why churches must not rush to open themselves up, and those which do open, must do everything they can to maintain social distancing and follow proper sanitary precautions in order to make sure the faithful do not suffer and die needlessly from exposure to COVID19. We have seen how churches are dangerous because of the closed tight spaces, combined with the number of worshipers, and the length of time worshipers are at a particular service.  And where churches have opened up, we have seen the virus spread, showing that the time is not right for us to return to our churches as if the virus is no longer a threat.

Government officials must continue to take the threat of COVID19 seriously. President Trump, however, seems to be doing everything but that. He has stopped talking about the coronavirus. He is planning major campaign rallies which will give it space to spread. He wants the Republicans to hold a big National Convention.  He has shown himself rejecting the need for consistent testing for the virus, acting like revealing the full extent of the problem is what is creating it.  If he cared about the people of the United States, he would do what he could to protect them instead of promote himself at their expense.

Sadly, because people are acting like we have obtained victory against COVID19, protections for people which were put in place become of the pandemic are not being extended. Thus, we might see in the near future, a massive number of families evicted from their residences; while the pandemic was recognized as a threat, this was being prevented, but now that the government is starting to act like things should go back to normal,  many people will suffer needlessly as they will no longer be protected from eviction. It would be easy for the government to step in and grant more protections, but it does not support the financial interests of the avaricious rich to do so, and the rich control much of what the government does.

But, since we have not done all we could and should do to help the poor, the neglected, the needy, the underclass, those without privilege, those who are most likely to be mistreated and abused by the powers that be, it should not be surprising that we are beginning to see major protests around the world by those who not only now are suffering because of the pandemic, but by those who have been suffering long before the pandemic developed and found the pandemic only made their situation worse. Those, like African Americans, who have experienced systematic racism, have felt the sting of that racism even more during the pandemic, as they are often the ones who hold jobs which are deemed “essential.” That is, they were deemed expendable), and were not given the same protections as those who could work from home. Likewise, they are the ones who felt the blunt end of police enforcement of rules established during the pandemic,, despite the fact others were often the ones causing greater problems (such as with the armed protests seen across many States, which arose, not because of injustice, but because of inconvenience). It should not be surprising that, in the middle of all this, when police brutality led to the needless and terrible deaths of several African Americans, those most accustomed to feeling the burdens placed upon them by society said they were done with it and rose up and protested. Their protest is for justice, not for luxury, and serves to fight against systematic injustice (sin). Insofar as their voices have not been heard, insofar as injustices remain, it should not be surprising they will continue to protest even though it means risking the pandemic becoming a major threat again. If this happens, if the pandemic spreads because of these protests, the ones to blame are not the protesters, who are defending justice, but those who have created and perpetuated systematic injustice in the United States which led to this situation. If the pandemic spreads because of the protests, it spreads because of injustice and it can be seen (metaphorically speaking) as punishment for the unaddressed sins of the United States (and in the world, where such systematic racism also continues and is being fought in solidarity with the protests outside the United States). This is what sin does. It destroys. And the more sin is defended and justified and reified in the system, the greater its consequences will be when it its self-destructive nature its revealed.

The Pope, understanding this, showed his sorrow with what happened to George Floyd, as well as offered his solidarity with those who suffered from the evils of racism:

I greet the English-speaking faithful joining us through the media. Dear brothers and sisters in the United States, I have witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest in your nation in these past days, following the tragic death of Mr George Floyd. My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life. At the same time, we have to recognize that “the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost”. Today I join the Church in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and in the entire United States, in praying for the repose of the soul of George Floyd and of all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism. Let us pray for the consolation of their grieving families and friends and let us implore the national reconciliation and peace for which we yearn. May Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America, intercede for all those who work for peace and justice in your land and throughout the world. [2]

Reconciliation, of course, requires penance. Those who have established and defended the racist system in place around the world must admit their sin and do what they can to make satisfaction for that sin. And, as it is also a communal sin which is involved, this means many are joined in with that sin, such as those who do nothing to change the system but receive all kinds of benefits and privilege from it. All implicated by communal sin, insofar as they are connected to that sin, must do what they can to rectify the situation, to give themselves over to reform so they do not take advantage of the system which benefits them at the expense of others, and push for those reforms needed to change the system to a more just and equitable one. So long as the system remains in place, sin continues to compound, and the consequences of that sin will continue to show up, worsening as the sin grows, until at last either everything will collapse upon itself, or else, the reformers will win out and the system will be replaced without a nihilistic end.

We are facing two different pandemics at the same time. One is COVID19. The other is systematic racism. Both have been able to spread far and wide and cause great destruction. Both will continue to do so as long we they are not properly dealt with. And, until they are properly examined, until they are properly contained, they will work together, fueling each other, making the situation worse. For it is the underprivileged and those who are abused by the system who will suffer the most during the pandemic, for they will have less protections and aids to rely upon. This is not to say the rich, the elite, should not think their lives are safe during the pandemic: COVID19 knows no boundaries in regards social status. However, as the poor will be required to work more in public, to be more active in public, they will find themselves more at risk from the pandemic, and also, they will find themselves shouldering the burden of the pandemic more than the rich. And racism, because it forces more people to needlessly be underprivileged, means it will make those suffering at the hands of racism more likely to be among the poor shouldering the burden of the pandemic.

Eventually those with privilege will find their privilege will not support them anymore, as those they tried to suppress will no longer accept such oppression.  Those involved in the protests against racism have already found their livelihood is at risk. They are putting themselves temporally in danger to make for a better future, so that in the long run, the risk will be less. This is why it is understandable that they do as they do (similar to the way we understand people who put their lives in danger in order to save friends and family members from other dangers, like fires). Many protested the coronavirus lockdowns for the same reason; they felt their livelihood was at stake, but they did not understand or appreciate the problem was not the lockdown, but the failure of the government to engage social safety nets to protect them and the community as a whole. And they were agitated by others, those who did not suffer from the worst effects of the pandemic, but rather, found themselves inconvenienced. They were angered because their passions were not being satisfied. They wanted a libertine lifestyle, and as is common with those who embrace such libertine views, they cared not about the effects of what they did so long as it is others who have to face the consequences of their actions. Only when they got sick and family members died did some of them see things differently, because then it became personal. This libertine view, sadly, is at the root of the system in place today. It is what energizes and promotes the systematic structures of sin which harm many, especially minorities who have little to know power of their own. This libertine view must be rooted it. It is what we must protest. And then, if we are able to eliminate it, then we can begin to work together to change the system and promote a system which will work for the common good.

[1] Pope Francis, “Angelus” (6-7-2020). Vatican translation.

[2] Pope Francis, “General Audience” (6-3-2020). Vatican translation.


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