Since the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., Unitarian Universalists in Missouri and elsewhere have participated in marches and vigils, collected food, and joined in calls for justice in investigating the teen’s death.
Daily protests of Brown’s death have ended several times with confrontations with police, who have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. Looters have damaged local businesses, and the start of the school year was postponed.
In an August 20 statement, UUA President Peter Morales said, “The images from Ferguson, Missouri, are profoundly unsettling: tanks, tear gas, military weaponry for urban warfare, angry crowds. We immediately feel a mixture of shock, anger, dismay, helplessness, sympathy, and outrage. As religious people who are committed to compassion and justice, what are we to do?”
“Ferguson is not about Ferguson,” Morales said. “It is about the systematic dehumanizing of people all over America.” He encouraged UUs to “stand on the side of love with those seeking healing and some measure of justice,” and to “rededicate ourselves to the work of building a world where events like those in Ferguson are unthinkable.”
The Rev. Julie Taylor, a UU community minister affiliated with the Emerson UU Chapel in Chesterfield, Mo., wore her yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” shirt on repeated trips to Ferguson, where she has stood with other clergy between protesters and law enforcement officers in efforts to defuse tensions and prevent violence.
At least one UU has been arrested in the Ferguson protests. Parker Jaques, a UU young adult who had traveled to Ferguson from La Mesa, Calif., was arrested Monday, August 18 for failing to disperse, but was then released.
Taylor and at least one other UU minister, the Rev. Sarah Richards of the Carbondale, Ill., Unitarian Fellowship, marched to the county prosecutor’s office in Clayton, Mo., on Wednesday night, August 20, with an interfaith coalition that presented a list of demands, including an expedited grand jury indictment of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, and appointment of a special prosecutor in the case. Wearing their religious vestments, the clergy then marched back into Ferguson, pausing to pray at each police staging area.
The four UU congregations in the greater St. Louis metro area have worked with other churches to collect and deliver food and supplies to Ferguson, where schools, stores, and other businesses have been shut since the violence and looting broke out, leaving many people without enough food, diapers, and other supplies, said Taylor, who is part of the UU Trauma Response Ministry and has been doing disaster response since 2002. Seven UU ministers and one ministerial candidate from several Missouri and Illinois congregations delivered supplies and offered pastoral care in Ferguson on Thursday, August 21. They are creating a Facebook page to inform UUs around the country of what’s happening on the ground in Ferguson and how they can support the effort.
Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood, Mo., about 18 miles from Ferguson, held a candlelight service on August 14 that drew a large crowd, including a number of people from the nearby Meacham Park community, which is primarily African American. The group then walked through town holding their candles, with a friendly police escort who held up traffic so they could proceed, the Rev. Barbara Hoag Gadon, Eliot’s lead minister, told UU World. “This is just the beginning. We have a lot more to do,” Gadon posted afterwards on the congregation’s Facebook page. Eliot Chapel has scheduled additional candlelight vigils.
UUs have sponsored or joined vigils and rallies in response to Ferguson in locations across the country, including Elkhart, Ind.; McHenry, Ill.; Jackson, Mich.; Albany, N.Y.; Ogden, Utah; Atlanta; Baltimore; Boston; Minneapolis; Oakland, Calif.; and Washington, D.C. The Standing on the Side of Love Facebook page has posted photos from these events as well as from Ferguson and St. Louis.
Various forms of witness and support are continuing, with Praying with Our Feet, a multifaith organization, serving as a clearinghouse for the faith community’s efforts in Ferguson.
- UUA President Issues Statement on Violence in Ferguson. August 20, 2014. (UUA.org)
- St. Louis Standing on the Side of Love. Information clearing house for Standing on the Side of Love activities going on through St. Louis Metro UU congregations, including activities related to Ferguson. (Facebook)
- Condemn the Racist Mistreatment of Young People of Color by Police. Action of Immediate Witness adopted by the 2013 UUA General Assembly. (UUA.org)