Statement of Cardinal Cupich on the Killing of Chicago Police Officer Ella French
Saturday night, members of a Chicago Police Department’s Community Safety Team stopped a vehicle for an expired license plate. Soon after, Officer Ella French, just 29 years old, was shot and killed by one of the occupants of the civilian vehicle. Another officer was badly wounded in the exchange of gunfire and remains in critical condition. We pray for him, for his family and friends, just as we pray for Officer French and her family and friends, as they cope with the terrible reality that their loved one was taken from them in another act of senseless violence. We can only imagine their pain, as we hold them in prayer and stand with them and all first responders who risk their safety every day to protect our communities and keep the peace.
They do this in a context of almost unimaginable complexity. A traffic stop turns deadly on a dime. One officer dead, the other fighting for his life. The alleged shooter, just 21 years old. Another suspect reportedly flees the scene, only to be detained by the neighbors whose fence he jumped to get away. Federal officials say the shooter obtained the weapon that killed Officer French through a straw purchase made by an Indiana man who bought the gun in Hammond – because his friend was ineligible owing to his criminal record.
The degree to which we take seriously the epidemic of gun violence will be measured by the effort we put into ridding our streets of illegal guns and weapons of war. Every day our elected officials fail to institute common-sense gun-reform laws, such as universal background checks and crackdowns on straw purchases, is a day we fail as a society to uphold the value of all human life.
By the same token, our commitment to protecting life will be judged by the work we put into building up the common good and redressing systemic injustice, not only through acts of remote charity – clicking to donate, posting to social media – but also through indispensable acts of proximate charity – giving food to the hungry, working to know our neighbors in need, no matter where they live. Committing acts of violence against the innocent can never be excused. But that does not mean we are released from the responsibility to understand why such violence plagues our city and our nation.
How can we understand such tragedies when none seems susceptible to logic? How can we make a difference when the crisis seems so enormous? There is no denying it: this has been a season of senselessness in Chicago, with gun violence rising and mass shootings becoming a regular occurrence. But we can never allow ourselves to become numb in the face of injustice, no matter how crushingly common it seems. (there have been more than 1,000 victims of mass shootings in Chicago over the past six years.) We shudder when we hear of the child hit by gunfire, but do we remember her name? We mourn the slain police officer, but do we see beyond the uniform? These questions are not meant to condemn, but to awaken us from the zombified state of polarization that suffuses our society today. We pick sides, even neighborhoods, rally with the likeminded, close ourselves to conversation with those who might disagree, derive meaning from the conflict, and gather ourselves into silos of politics, culture and even religion.
This is not what God wants for his family. Officer French’s brother Andrew, an Iraq War veteran, wanted us to understand that his sister’s decision to join the force grew out of her commitment to social justice. And we can see the evidence: According to the child’s uncle, Officer French drove a 1-month-old and her mother to the hospital last month, after the baby suffered a gunshot wound to the head during a mass shooting in Englewood. The infant survived and is recovering. As Andrew French told the Chicago Tribune, “My sister’s always been a person of integrity. She’s always done the right thing even when nobody’s looking.” Of course, as Andrew knows, God was looking. God sees with the eyes of a loving parent. Even when we are beset by grief, feeling utterly alone, on the precipice of despair, God never abandons us, because we are his children, all of us.