New York bishop on grand jury decisions in deaths of Garner, Brown

[Episcopal Diocese of New York] The Rt. Rev. Andrew M. L. Dietsche, bishop of New York, on Dec.4 issued the following letter regarding the grand jury decisions in the police officer-involved deaths of Micheal Brown and Eric Garner.

The full letter follows:

My dear brothers and sisters,

Last week, after months of waiting, the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri failed or refused to indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. The days since have seen the shock, anger and heartbreak of millions of Americans given expression across our country. Yesterday, the grand jury on Staten Island failed or refused to indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner and took his life. Again people poured into the streets. Through the night, above our city was heard the sound of helicopters, and everywhere people came together to share their grief and join their voices in outrage.

With no presumption of what verdict might be reached at trial in any particular case, nothing could be clearer than that at a minimum the demands of justice require that any such killings be fully investigated and that everyone involved be held to account. The long and ongoing pattern of refusing to indict police officers who take the lives of people of color, especially black men, continues to communicate to everyone that the lives of these whom we know to be the beloved children of our God do not in fact matter, that they are expendable, that their killings raise no question, and that they can be taken at no cost. What this says to the hearts and spirits of children of color growing up in our cities should break every heart. It breaks mine. And it must be said as well that these non-indictments also cast a shadow across the faithful service of the very many police officers who do their work well and are respectful of the communities they serve. These have been very, very costly days for our country, and now our own city, and costly for those of us who love Jesus and have been made free and strong by the love of God for every single person which we have come to know through him.

Less than two weeks ago at our diocesan convention we passed a resolution calling on every parish to engage the police in their community in conversation to improve and strengthen the bonds of church and police and citizen, that we may find a way to live better and freer together, and in mutual respect and trust. I ask that every parish review that reasonable resolution and take positive steps toward implementing it where you are.

Eric Garner lived and died on Staten Island. The Diocese of New York has ten churches on the island, and we count among our own members men and women from every community on the island. Among them are faithful police officers. Among them are faithful people of every color. We eat together the bread of heaven. We drink from the same cup. I ask your prayers for the clergy and congregations of Christ Church, the Church of the Ascension, Saint Paul’s, Saint Mary’s, Saint Andrew’s, All Saints, Saint Simon’s, Saint John’s, Saint Alban’s and Saint Stephen’s. May God grace them with wisdom and compassion for the days ahead. May God make them brave and strong and faithful for the work of justice-making and healing to come.

A general call has been voiced for people to come today at 5:30 to Foley Square, that we may be together in our frustration, anger and grief. People will gather for different reasons. I will be there to join again in the call for justice, to name before God our brother Eric Garner, and to recommit to the bonds of our shared humanity. Bonds of love. May we, in this hour, be graced to make the witness of our faith, and the love of God, before a city and a world and a people which so desperately needs to reclaim its hope.

The Rt. Rev. Andrew M. L. Dietsche
Bishop of New York


  1. Canon Richard Miller says:

    Thank you for your leadership in calling all to Christ’s teachings on this very unfortunate set of circumstances. Love does conquer all.

  2. Jaan Sass says:

    Bishops like this need to drop thier arrogance stop being political and fulfill thier roles building the kingdom of Christ and preach salvation. It is the sad politics that has brought are church to its knees. Police following in both cases brown attacking the officer and the other person resisting arrest followed the law which was collaborated with the facts of the case. The back of these two criminals means you also support the looting murdering done too primarily minority businesses and individuals in the name of protest sic. Sir you do not have respect for police or the rule of law. Honestly it is why many people or leaving the Episcopal Church.

    • Angela Jackson says:

      The law and police are supposed to protect and serve
      they do not do that
      they break the law all the time
      this bishop is 1 of few that is speaking out for us the people, police are supposed to protect
      instead they shoot to kill and take many innocent lives
      theyre needs to be more bishops and real men like this
      defending our rights
      Then this would be a better world!

  3. Dan Tootle says:

    Bishop Dietsche you have spoken truth to this untenable situation of over reaching power and breaking communities, of which what has happened in Ferguson and Staten Island, and too many other places recently. Mr. Sass’ comments that take the Episcopal Church to task for improperly ‘being political” could not be further from what we are called to be as Followers of the Way. And that is certainly not “why many people are leaving the Episcopal Church”. Although my community in Southern Maryland has not been broken as others have through such miscarriages of justice, are hearts are very troubled, and we stand in solidarity with those who will bravely stand for equality and the eradication of the racism that is so apparently the basis of such tragic and unnecessary violence against “others”.

    • Angela Jackson says:

      Dan you spoke the real truth and said it very well!
      We so desperately need so many more men & women out theyre like you!
      Then this world would be the beautiful place its supposrd to be 🙂

  4. The Rev. Dr. Charles H. Morris says:

    In principle I disagree with Mr. (or Ms.) Sass and agree with Mr. Tootle, and I heartily agree that the bishop is courageous and should speak out on such an issue, of crucial importance to our society in America–and certainly to the families of all both men involved in the two tragic incidents.

    I am very familiar with most of the facts and news items, editorials, letters to editors and columns about the Michael Brown case here in the city of Ferguson, just ten minutes from where I had a multiracial parish for 24 years, with strong leadership from African-American and Nigerian as well as Caucasian folks. It is too facile, however for the bishop of a distant diocese (NY) to make such a judgment about the case in MO. It was very complicated, with the unfortunate slain victim taking violent actions toward the police officer, Mr. Wilson, leading to the resulting tragedy. It is so true, and sad, that often persons of color are harassed and profiled by many law enforcement officers in our country, and this surely needs to change. However, when one, be he or she of any particular race, does not comply with a reasonable order from an officer, then goes on to threaten physically the life of said officer, it becomes a situation fraught with complexity and difficult for any jury to figure out for correct and just decision-making. I believe the grand jury in St. Louis County probably made the correct decision, given the fact that they heard hundreds of hours of testimony, saw and studied all the forensic evidence, including three autopsies, and deliberated for untold numbers of hours. Personally, I wish they had indicted Mr. Wilson, so it could have been brought to an open trial, with lawyers on both sides able to cross-examine all witness, but the downside of that would have been that it would have taken a year or two for that to have come about.

    The long and short of all this is that we as Americans, and as Christians and Episcopalians particularly, must work to change systemic racial injustice and all eliminate all vestiges of prejudice, plus work for economic and other types of justice in our society.

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