Surely The Presence of the Lord Is In This Place

Challenged by Brandi Riley’s powerful live video on Facebook, imploring white people to get involved, to raise their voices because black folks cannot do this — call for justice and an end to police (and other) violence — alone, I joined a march yesterday.

Sponsored by a coalition of churches and community organizations here in the Quad Cities, we marched from police headquarters in Rock Island, Illinois across the Centennial Bridge, to headquarters in Davenport, Iowa. As we marched we chanted the familiar “No justice, no peace” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

One of the leaders, at the start of the march, made our intentions clear, “We will not turn this into another Dallas. Anyone bent on provoking violence can go back to your car now.” There was no violence. Here are excerpts from some of the speeches we heard:

“Is everybody here black?” No, the crowd responded. “Is everybody here white?” No, the crowd roared. “We’re here because we respect humanity. When black people are killed, I hurt. When civilians are killed, I hurt. When police are killed, I hurt. A life is a life. Until we resemble what we see today, people of all backgrounds respecting life, until that day comes, we have to shout to all people that black lives matter. Because obviously too many people don’t think those lives matter.”

“We don’t hate cops,” a young woman said, “I don’t want to be a mother standing over a casket.” And another organizer summed it all up, “We’re here to share our concern, share our love, and share our will to say that things have got to change. We can start change in our community.”

I hope so. This is the first march I have participated in since the Trayvon Martin murder. After that event, there were a few meetings here of community leaders and clergy but things sort of fizzled out. We have a short attention span in this country. We are numbed to gun violence and systemic racism.

But this is the only way things will change. Yesterday, I called for continuing hard work against racism and for sensible gun laws. Even more important are ongoing conversations between black people and white people, between law enforcement and the citizenry to build the kind of trust necessary for genuine and lasting change to begin to happen.

I was proud to be a Christian yesterday. Even though there were Muslims, Buddhists and people of no faith in the crowd, the spirit of the black church was much in evidence. When a young pastor closed our time in prayer, he acknowledged the presence of many faiths and none and he expressed his respect for them all. But then he asked their indulgence while he prayed, with integrity, out of the faith which brought him there. The powerful prayer ended in the Name of Jesus.

I don’t believe anyone was offended.

Because his spirit was surely present in that place.


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