UPDATE: NOVEMBER 24, 2014
POWER clergy and lay leaders will gather at 5:30pm TODAY at Arch St. United Methodist to await the #Ferguson Grand Jury Announcement and prepare our response. POWER’s involvement in local demonstrations will focus on pastoral care and safeguarding the rights of protestors to engage in peaceful assembly. Click here to receive updates. Stay tuned for updates and follow @powerinterfaith on Twitter.
***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
***Faith leaders plan to support non-violent protests in Philadelphia following Ferguson Grand Jury Announcement; Arch St. United Methodist to offer safe space for Philadelphia protesters.***
Philadelphia, PA– Clergy and lay leaders from the interfaith organization POWER announced today that they will participate in local demonstrations in Philadelphia after St. Louis County’s Grand Jury announces whether it will indict police officer Darren Wilson. Wilson’s lethal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown has become the focus of a growing national movement centered on police brutality and racism.
In Philadelphia, the organizations Black Lives Matter, PURP (People Using their Real Power), and National Action Network all have plans for gatherings following the announcement. Black Lives Matter will host a demonstration at City Hall as soon as the announcement is made. The day after the announcement, National Action Network will host an action and PURP will host a march between City Hall and Broad and Cecil B. Moore. Exact times and locations will be released as soon as the Grand Jury announces its decision.
POWER’s involvement in the demonstrations will focus on pastoral care and safeguarding the rights of protestors to engage in peaceful assembly. POWER congregation Arch St. United Methodist Church, located across from the City Hall, will additionally open its doors to provide for protesters’ needs.
Religious leaders have played a key role in events in Ferguson, including helping to calm tensions during the initial wave of protests in August. In October, 43 clergy were arrested in a civil disobedience during a series of “MoralMonday” actions aimed to draw attention back to the need for justice in Ferguson, including Mordechai Liebling of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia and the Rev. Dr. Cornel West. The movement however, is largely led by young people.
“Young protesters in Ferguson have showed incredible courage as they have continued to organize even after being teargassed, shot at with rubber bullets, and waiting over 100 days to hear if Darren Wilson will be charged in the killing of their friend,” said Patrice Armstead, a community organizer with POWER who participated in protests in Ferguson in October. “They have done trainings on non-violence and de-escalation while meanwhile, tanks are again rolling into their community and the police are militarizing in preparation for the Grand Jury’s announcement. We pray that in the wake of the decision, law enforcement in Ferguson and across the nation will show the wisdom that protesters have in preparing themselves to be peaceful.”
Protests in Ferguson have evolved to include a variety of demands, ranging from the indictment of Darren Wilson to the demilitarization of police forces. Clergy and POWER staff said they will support youth voices in being heard as Philadelphia reacts to the Grand Jury’s decision.
“To stand alongside others when there is pain and injustice is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,'” said Rev. Lorie Hershey, pastor of West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship. “We must see the face of God in one another and allow each other’s reality to impact our own. That is why as people of faith, we will stand with young people as they exercise their rights to peacefully protest and express their frustration with systems that devalue their lives and bodies day in and day out.”
Five Philadelphia clergy leaders affiliated with POWER, including the Reverend’s Mark Tyler (Mother Bethel A.M.E.), Leslie Callahan (St. Paul’s Baptist), Cean James (Grace Christian Fellowship), Ernie Flores (Second Baptist of Germantown), and Bishop Dwayne Royster (Living Water United Church of Christ), traveled to Ferguson in the initial waves of protests in in early August. POWER’s Deputy Director Wes Lathrop was also present in Ferguson at that time, and his account of clashes instigated by police was published in the Huffington Post.
Since then, POWER has stayed connected to local youth and clergy in Ferguson and St. Louis through its national partner, PICO National Network. PICO, the nation’s largest faith-based community organizing network, has maintained a vital presence in Ferguson since the first week of protests, including training for protesters in community organizing skills and non-violent civil disobedience.
“We pray for peace, and do not support violence on the side of protesters nor on the side of the police – but peace does not mean remaining silent. Mike Brown’s killing has shed light on the trauma that black and brown people face walking on the streets every day, whether it’s in Ferguson or here in Philadelphia. Nobody should have to fear being victimized by police who are supposed to be protecting and serving us. We will lift our voices together, along with our young brothers and sisters nationwide, for a healthier, healing democracy in which all of us are alive, free and valued,” said Bishop Dwayne Royster, Executive Director of POWER.
Philadelphia clergy see a connection between the movement in Ferguson and POWER’s campaign for public school funding, which is focused on ensuring that a full and fair formula for funding public schools will go into effect before next year’s school budgets.
“Divestment from public education here in Pennsylvania and investment in militarized, unaccountable policing in Ferguson all affect young people with dire consequences. But now these same young citizens are arising and lifting their voices for a better present and future. It will be my privilege to stand with them,” said Rev. Leslie Callahan, pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church.
About POWER: POWER represents congregations from across the Philadelphia region, bringing people together across the lines of race, faith, income level and neighborhood — lines which have historically kept our city and state divided. POWER is committed to the work of bringing about justice here and now and seeks to exercise power in the public arena by strengthening and mobilizing our networks, so that the needs and priorities of all Philadelphians are reflected in the systems and policies that shape our city. POWER is nonpartisan and is not aligned explicitly or implicitly with any candidate or party. We do not endorse or support candidates for office. Learn more atwww.powerphiladelphia.org.