Another Voice / Social justice

 WNY faith leaders raise unified voice against racism

By Dr. Khalid Qazi

Everyone deserves to breathe. This is not a privilege. This is a fundamental right.

The death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis has left us all gasping for breath. For eight minutes and 46 seconds he was pressed under the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin, unable to perform this basic function. This time frame is frozen in our collective memory, a reminder of what we need to do to prevent similar incidents from ever happening again.

We are grappling with two viruses: The coronavirus and, far worse, the virus of racism that has become a crippling chronic disease in our nation. Black Americans are, all too often, dehumanized at the hands of this societal virus.

Yes, we have repeatedly said “enough is enough,” only to witness the cycle of police brutality and antiblack murders continue year after year. Again and again these types of injustices have occurred without the faith communities rising in unison to stop such inhumane acts.

Far too often, the faith communities have been silent about this carnage.

That stops now. We, the religious voices of Western New York, are committed to change and doing our part to make a difference. All of our faith traditions teach us to love our neighbors, to lift up the aggrieved, and to protect life. How could we have been so blind to the continued oppression and subjugation of our brothers and sisters in the African American community?

The Covid-19 pandemic has prevented us from gathering in traditional ways. It has curtailed our celebrations of Passover, Easter and Ramadan. It has put masks on our faces for the brief moments we may have been together.

The cold-blooded murder of George Floyd has reminded us that there are masks that many in our communities have been forced to wear that are far more opaque and sinister than the ones currently on our faces. This mask has been designed not to allow us to take a breath, but to take it away.

We come together as a multi-faith, multi-ethnic and multi-racial community of leaders to pledge to build personal and communal relationships so that all of us are more connected between our groups.

We will work moment by moment, conversation by conversation, to build the beloved community that we need with a foundation of justice for everyone.

Unless we all are free, none of us are truly free.

Khalid J. Qazi, founding president, Muslim Public Affairs Council-WNY, coauthored this with: Rev. Beth Hennessy, pastoral care associate at Westminster Presbyterian Church; Alex Lazarus-Klein, the rabbi of Congregation Shir Shalom in Amherst, and Rev. George Nicholas, pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church.