On May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed African American man, died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin used his knee to pin him down for over eight minutes as Floyd repeatedly told the officer “I can’t breathe.” Floyd’s death served as a catalyst, sparking numerous protests around the nation, many that have turned into dangerous situations of rioting and looting.

In response, many local governmental and religious officials have released statements to citizens regarding racism, some pleading for peaceful protests.

In a Pentecostal statement released Sunday, Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie started out by saying we should not be surprised by the riots taking place around the nation, as “the outrage being expressed is the result of decades of oppression and injustice.”

He added that in response, he hopes to see that churches, synagogues and mosques in northwest Pennsylvania can “find meaningful ways to collaborate, bringing about real change in our region.”

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro held similar empathic sentiments in a statement released on Friday, where he recognized how the killing of George Floyd is a “painful reminder of how far we have yet to travel as a nation to find peace and equality,” adding that “too many Americans see how our society does not care about them.”

Senator Bob Casey also followed suit in a statement released Sunday on Facebook, asking for the country to raise their voices and “call for justice in a system that has, for too long, turned a blind eye to the injustice,” while Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, voiced that the killing of Floyd by a police officer was “depraved and senseless,” adding that “Americans demand justice.”

Many statements released also mentioned the need for order and peaceful protests amongst communities. In particular, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr attributes much of the violence to individuals not even related to the movement.

In a statement released Sunday, Barr said he believes peaceful and legitimate protests have been “hijacked by violent radical elements” and that “groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda.”

Barr also pleaded for citizens to stand up to the violence and destruction of property, as it endangers the lives of others and interferes with legitimate peaceful protests, as well as citizens in general. Instead, he asked that people come together and focus on the work that needs to be done so radical groups cannot reach their goal of “preventing reconciliation and driving us apart.”

Shapiro added that the response to the crisis must give people the confidence that, with hard work, they can begin to heal society and “lift the knee that holds down black Americans and holds back the potential of our country.”

Unity was a common denominator among many statements, as was the case with Turzai’s statement, in which he acknowledges the large rift between the Democrats and Republicans, envisioning a unity amongst the two.

“We can cross the partisan divide,” he said. “We can stand together for what is right.”

Shapiro responded similarly, stating that “real leaders” don’t bring about equality “by sowing divisions, but rather with hope, with love for everyone and with the faith that all of our actions will make a difference.”

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