Mike Pence meets with black faith leaders, says church is the right place to address George Floyd’s death

Vice President Mike Pence speaks with Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland. | YouTube/The White House via screenshot

Vice President Mike Pence joined Bishop Harry Jackson for a listening session with community and faith leaders on Friday, where he said the church is the right place to address the nation's response to the death of George Floyd and the protests over racism that followed.

"I couldn't help but feel that as our nation reels from the tragic death of George Floyd, that a place to start a conversation is a place of worship," Pence said at the listening session held at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland, where Jackson is a senior pastor.

"It's the wellspring of our nation's strength," Pence continued, speaking to a select group of black and minority leaders representing churches, businesses, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations. "It's been the wellspring of our national unity and our steady march toward a more perfect union."

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died on May 25 while he was handcuffed and on the ground restrained by three officers in Minneapolis. A cellphone video taken at the scene showed former police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for several minutes as other officers held on to his back and feet. Floyd had refused to get into the squad car, "stiffened up, fell to the ground, and told the officers he was claustrophobic," according to details in a criminal complaint against Chauvin.

Officer Thomas Lane had asked Chauvin whether they should roll Floyd on his side after he said he was struggling to breathe. The final time Lane asked that question, concerned Floyd was experiencing "excited delirium" from intoxicants, Floyd was already unresponsive and had stopped moving.

Floyd, who had moved to Minnesota to start a new life following a felony conviction for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon in Texas, was arrested on Memorial Day for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill at Cup Foods convenience store to purchase cigarettes. The clerk had called 911 to report the crime and said Floyd was intoxicated. 

Nationwide, people came together in agreement that officer Chauvin had used excessive force and that his actions led to Floyd's death

"His death was almost prophetic and symbolic of a time and season that change had to come," Jackson said at the event with Pence. "Black and whites came together to address the civil rights movement, and we found momentum. I think we will similarly find momentum during this time."

Jackson added, "It's not just George Floyd's death alone. His death is representative of the nearly 400-year history of challenges we've had. … This administration didn't create this problem, but it has the opportunity to help us heal."

At the session, joined also by Executive Director of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council Scott Turner, Pence said, "It will not be enough for us just to heal our economy. We have to heal that which divides by breaking down the barriers to opportunity for African Americans and any American that's been left behind, so I'm anxious to gain your insights."

Protests that erupted in Minneapolis and St. Paul two days after Floyd's death later spread to several other cities, including Memphis, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, New York City, and Washington, D.C., among many others. While some demonstrators remained peaceful, others resorted to violence, including looting businesses and burning cars and buildings.

"It's clear that those images shocked the conscience of a nation," Pence said. "We have no tolerance for violence against an individual in this country or tolerance for police brutality, and no tolerance for rioting in the streets or looting and destruction of property or the claiming the innocent lives, including the lives of law enforcement."

The vice president expressed support for the right to peacefully protest, and explained that forces were mobilized to make space for peaceful demonstrations. "My prayer is that we, as a nation, have ears to hear, to listen to one another and open hearts," he added.

Jackson said the United States is a diverse nation and every American needs to feel loved and accepted. He said it requires all three sectors of our country — government, business, and church — to unite together in doing so. "Minorities need to hear that they are valued and that the lives of people really matter," he said.

A select group also offered personal reflections of their own experiences as minority leaders, fathers, educators, business owners, and citizens as well as insight into a way forward, according to a statement by Hope Christian Church.

The recommendations that came out of the event included ensuring that black youth feel heard and acknowledged; leaders of faith use their platforms to address race; funding and resources for historically black colleges and universities to increase; tackling criminal justice reform; and providing more practical, hands-on training, evaluation, and accountability for police officers.

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