Left Justified: Colorful Rockford

By Stanley Campbell

I just came from a wonderful meeting with the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He is here helping organize a response to the police shooting. He was, as always, a great speaker, but that wasn’t what was so wonderful.

It was the group of religious leaders who met with him at First Presbyterian Church. What a wonderful, colorful, intelligent, caring group of diverse religious leaders we have. Too bad it was a tragedy that brought us together, but we were together in that meeting.

In my 24 years of organizing, I rarely have seen such a collection of committed people. Baptists with Jews with Muslims with Lutherans with almost every color and hue and ethnic background represented. It was Rockford at its best.

Below are some of the e-mails shot back and forth from various religious and social justice people about the shooting.

From Jeff Hibbing (and I appreciated the notice of the public gathering at Kingdom Authority Day Care): “I want to add my voice to this clarion call for engagement. These are crucial hours…hours that could make the difference in our city for years to come. There is a rally scheduled for tomorrow morning to work for unity, healing and justice. I want to encourage you all to be there. I think it’s important, at the very least, for those of us not constantly wrestling with these issues, to listen and observe and reflect upon the kind of pain, frustration and anger that folks in this community are experiencing. It’s not necessary to ‘take a side’ to do this. But I believe it is crucial and a very basic level to demonstrate empathy and Christian charity.”

Below is a report (I edited it down) from a teacher at Northern Illinois University:

“There have been seven fatal shootings by Rockford police officers since the year 2000, according to the Police Department’s own reports. Of the 12 incidents of police shootings since the year 2000, the same two officers involved in the Barmore shooting were involved in four of the 12, or in one-third of them.”

A friend of mine has been researching other incidents of police using lethal force in several other cases in Illinois and elsewhere, and is about the militarization of our police. He finds it alarming the police have used their weapons in more than 20 shootings, with nine of them being fatal. “They are averaging one fatal shooting per year,” he said.

Below is from Gary Schwerin of Bridge Ministries:

“I feel impelled to write a brief, open letter to my clergy colleagues regarding the current community crisis surrounding the shooting of a young man in a church daycare facility. You might think it isn’t your concern. It is.

“Paul said when one part of the body suffers, all parts suffer. There is real suffering now, and frustration, and anger over years of un-addressed racism and injustice in our community. That’s not to say who is right or wrong in this case. I don’t know. May never know. But a young man is dead. Could have been my son, or yours. And that is always a tragedy.

“Race is certainly a factor in this. How can it not be? But it is not just a ‘black’ problem. It’s not just a ‘race’ problem. It is a community problem. It is a justice problem. It is my problem, and yours. Because Jesus prayed for his people to be one. Because Paul described what the body is like. Those of us who are not African-American can’t just sit this one out. We need to stand together. We need to talk together. We need to pray together. Maybe if we do, good can come from this obvious evil.

“Let’s not forget that Mayor Morrissey and Chief Epperson are our brothers in Christ. Let’s keep them, and all involved in this situation, in our prayers. If there is an open forum called, I urge you to attend. If help is asked for, I urge you to help. I don’t think this is just one more story in the news. I think it has the potential to either further divide or further unite—not just the community, but the body of Christ. Which will it be? With you in his service, Gary Schwerin, Bridge Ministries.”

If I misrepresented anyone, I apologize. I do feel encouraged the city will rise to the occasion and do what is right.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the September 9-15, 2009 issue

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