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REFLECTION: Which black lives matter?

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, leader of the Catholic Church in central and western Oklahoma. Photo Provided

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, Oklahoma City

The genesis of the Black Lives Matter movement was moral outrage over the ill-treatment of young black men at the hands of police officers. Undoubtedly, the powder-keg moment was the shocking death of George Floyd this past May in Minneapolis. His death has sparked both peaceful protests demanding justice as well as acts of destructive violence in cities around the world.

These protests show no sign of abating soon. The focus of many activists has shifted to include the treatment of black women such as Breonna Taylor, who died at the hands of Louisville police in her own apartment.

The movement has grown and taken on a life of its own, highlighting the deep roots of racial injustice and the effects of racism in society. Black lives do matter. Which black lives? All black lives matter: men, women, children and unborn children.

One controversial phenomenon linked with contemporary outrage over racial or social injustice is the so-called “cancel culture.” This is an effort to rewrite history in order to remove all reminders of events and persons that could cause discomfort or offend current sensibilities.

We have seen this recently in the toppling of statues of confederate generals and slave-owning presidents, and even removing the names of saints like Saint Junipero Serra and Catholic literary figures such as Flannery O’Connor from public buildings because of their supposed racist attitudes or actions.

Mob rule is a hazardous form of government and a dangerous cultural path to embark upon. But, it has been one that today’s protest culture seems committed to pursue.

The strength of that commitment to “cancel” offensive memories surprised many recently (myself included) when Planned Parenthood of New York removed the name of its patron saint, Margaret Sanger, from its Manhattan abortion clinic. Margaret Sanger was the founder of what became Planned Parenthood and an early birth control advocate and pioneer.

What never had been fully acknowledged by Planned Parenthood and those who share its commitment to the widespread distribution of contraceptives and ready access to abortion were Sanger’s racist attitudes and embrace of eugenics. Eugenics is the practice of selective breeding of human populations by sterilization or birth control in order to improve its genetic composition. Margaret Sanger wrote in 1922, “We are paying for, and even submitting to, the dictates of an ever-increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all.”

Margaret Sanger’s eugenist vision has targeted effectively black communities with devastating consequences. At the time of ‘Roe v. Wade’ polls showed that blacks were significantly less likely to favor abortion. Today, the abortion industry’s Guttmacher Institute notes that the abortion rate for black women is nearly five times higher than for white women. More black babies are aborted each year in New York City than black babies born alive.

We also could cite the disproportionate number of blacks who are incarcerated or who are awaiting execution on death row. The high incarceration rate leads black families to suffer disproportionately with the collapse of stable marriages and children being raised without their fathers.

Black Lives Matter is correct to point out the injustice of cases of police misconduct regarding black men and women. But, this is just the beginning of reclaiming the dignity of black men, women and children who have an inalienable dignity that is not granted by any government or movement, but is an endowment given by God who has created all of us in his own image and likeness.

God desires all his children to flourish. It is the role of government and civil society, including the Church, to foster the conditions that allow families and individuals to do just that.

NOTE: Paul S. Coakley serves the people of Oklahoma as Catholic Archbishop of Oklahoma City. This reflection first appeared in The Sooner Catholic on August 14, 2020. It is reposted here, with permission.

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