Amid widespread protests against police brutality, faith leaders across Louisville offered spiritual relief and renewed calls for justice on Sunday in a city deeply wounded over racial injustice.
From the pulpits of Black churches, to indigenous hymns in Louisville’s Central Park, to Muslim prayers at Waterfront Park, churches and other houses of worship across Louisville held services, virtually and in person.
Rev. Jesse Jackson Joins Louisville Congregation
St. Stephen Church in the West End marked the 11th day of protests in Louisville with a special guest: National civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson visited for a conversation about race and policing.
After the opening song, Jackson and his son Jonathan Jackson sat down with Rev. Kevin Cosby to talk about the police killing of Breonna Taylor this past March. In a nod to Jackson’s early work in the Civil Rights Movement, Cosby opened with three questions first asked by the Kerner Commission, formed by President Lyndon Johnson after riots rocked American cities in 1968:
“What happened, why did it happen and how do we prevent it from happening again?” he said.
Jackson answered first by illustrating the long history of racism in Kentucky.
“The states had to ratify the end of slavery. Kentucky ratified that in 1976, 111 years after slavery was over Kentucky had not ratified the end of slavery. That says a lot about the legislature in this state,” Jackson said.
He went on to speak about what he called the three pandemics facing America: a pandemic of racial violence by police, of poverty, and of COVID-19.
Jackson called on Gov. Andy Beshear to convene a special session to pass hate crime legislation and increase accountability for police shootings. He also called on Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to consider charges against the three officers involved in shooting Taylor.
‘Little Flock Strong’
At Little Flock Missionary Baptist Church in Shelby Park, Pastor Bernard Crayton echoed that call for more aggressive action from city and state leaders.
“We want to put Mr. Cameron on notice that we expect him to do the right thing, or we will be in Frankfort, amen, marching there at his office,” Crayton said. Crayton took the pulpit wearing a t-shirt that said “Little Flock Strong.” Early Wednesday morning, his church was shot up, reportedly by four white men.
“It was an evil thing that was done. I stand this morning not as an angry Black pastor, but one who is thankful to God that no one was killed by these stray bullets,” he said.
Louisville Metro Police and the FBI are investigating the shooting. LMPD said they have not ruled out the possibility that the shooting was racially motivated.
The 150-year-old church, founded by freed slaves, will not be deterred, Crayton said. And he hopes the protesters will not be either.
“In spite of all these things that are happening right now, we cannot get discouraged,” he said. “Watch what’s happening. We are at a tipping point of making a difference in the world!”
Crayton echoed Rev. Jackson’s message across town at St. Stephen: this fight won’t be won in a day, or a week, or even a year. But nonetheless, they said, it’s a fight worth fighting.
A Moment Of Silence For Victims
At Louisville’s Central Park, hundreds gathered for a walking vigil to commemorate the Black lives lost to racial injustice. But with so many gathered, organizers instead called on people to stand or walk, in silence, amid the shade so that everyone could socially distance in accordance with health guidelines due to the coronavirus.
At the sound of a gong, hundreds fell silent for nearly nine minutes — the length of time an officer held his knee on George Floyd’s neck.
Eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence for George Floyd at Central Park in Louisville pic.twitter.com/UmnrxBdr21
— Ryan Van Velzer (@RyanVanVelzer) June 7, 2020
Interfaith Paths to Peace and the Sowers of Justice Network invited leaders from diverse faith traditions to speak a few words. There were songs: familiar ones including “Amazing Grace” and “A Change Is Gonna Come”, and less familiar ones in Sanskrit and indigenous languages, and prayers in the name of Elohim, God and Allah.
Chandra Goforth Irvin with Interfaith Paths to Peace told the crowd it’s easy to stand together in unity on a beautiful day in the park with like-minded people. She warned the real challenge comes in conference rooms and dinner tables where Black lives are devalued and ignored.
“The real challenge will come when we must decide to retreat or to face the horrific truths of our past,” Irvin said. “The challenge to stand for love, justice, equity and peace, when a Black person asks ‘will you please listen to me this time?’ Or when they curse you when you haven’t.”
Solidarity In Prayer
And as the sun set over the Ohio River, about a hundred people gathered on a tarp as part of a Muslim solidarity prayer service. A place, one speaker said, that is not far from the site of that persistent Louisville legend — where Muhammad Ali threw his Olympic medal in the river.
State Rep. Attica Scott of Louisville told the crowd that she does not feel that Black lives matter to Gov. Andy Beshear and Mayor Greg Fischer… at least not enough to treat protesters with dignity and respect.
“I was brought to my knees Friday when I’m was out in resistance, love, solidarity…and I was teargassed by the people we pay to protect us,” Scott said.
Sister Janene Shakir, too, gave voice to the anger, sadness and fear that’s overwhelmed Louisville residents in recent days, adding that “nothing is worth a human life.”
“We have to teach peace…you have to start with yourself, and that’s the hardest part,” Shakir said.
— Eleanor Klibanoff (@eklib) June 7, 2020
Correction: In a previous version of this story, Pastor Bernard Crayton’s name was misspelled. It has been corrected.
This story has been updated.