Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C., has spoken out against the “murderous attack” which caused the death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. The archbishop said the killing was a reminder that racism is a virus as deadly as COVID-19.

“Currently, our attention is fixated on the global deadly virus,” Archbishop Gregory said on Monday, writing in the archdiocesan newspaper Catholic Standard.  “The recent brutal killing of Ahmaud Arbery in the state of Georgia reminds us of another virus that is much older, but just as deadly.”

“The virus of racism inflicts hatred, violence, and death in our society and in the lives of far too many people,” the archbishop wrote.

Before his appointment to the capital see last year, Gregorys served as Archbishop of Atlanta from 2005 until 2019. Previously the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference from 2001 to 2004, Gregory is currently a member of the U.S. bishops’ anti-racism task force, and in 2016 was selected to lead the bishops’ Special Task Force to Promote Peace in our Communities during a spate of race-related shootings around the country.

Ahmaud Arbery, a 25 year-old black man, was shot dead in Brunswick, Georgia, on February 23 by two white men who cited the state’s citizen arrest law in their confrontation with him. Arbery was unarmed.

Archbishop Gregory called the killing another case where “an unarmed Black man has had his life violently cut short.”

Gregory McMichael, a 64 year-old former police officer and investigator and his 34 year-old son Travis were arrested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations on May 7. The have since been charged with murder and aggravated assault—more than two months after Arbery’s death.

“This murderous attack, like all acts of racism, hurts all of us in the Body of Christ since we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and deserve the dignity that comes with that existence,” Archbishop Gregory said on Monday.

Racism comes in other forms in society, he said, including ethno-religious bigotry against Jewish, Muslim, and Christian people and immigrants.

“We already have the balm that cures racism - compassion, mercy, love and justice,” he said, noting that “through Jesus, we become more compassionate, merciful, and loving to seek justice for all our neighbors.”

According to the senior McMichael, there had been several break-ins in the neighborhood, and Arbery was supposedly recorded on surveillance video inside a nearby house that was under construction.

McMichael saw Arbery running through the neighborhood—Arbery’s family said he would jog in the area—and he and his son armed themselves with a .357 caliber handgun and a shotgun and pursued Arbery in their truck. They claimed they had seen Arbery “the other night” with his hand in his pants, and said he might be armed.

Video of the shooting that later went viral online shows Arbery running down the street with the McMichaels waiting for him in the truck—not pulling up beside him as they told police. According to the police report, they said they yelled at Arbery to “stop, we want to talk to you.”

Travis got out of the truck with the shotgun. Arbery was seen on video running around the truck, reemerging on the other side in a tussle with Travis. McMichael fired the shotgun three times, after which the unarmed Arbery fell dead in the street.

The McMichaels cited Georgia’s citizen arrest law in their confrontation of Arbery. The law allows for citizens to “arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.”

“If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion,” the law states.

The McMichaels have been charged with murder and aggravated assault, and the state’s attorney general has requested an investigation into possible prosecutorial misconduct; two district attorneys had previously recused themselves from the case because of some relation to Gregory McMichael.

The Department of Justice is investigating whether the shooting of Arbery was a hate crime.