Protesters lined about a half-mile of Fifth Avenue, in Oakland, at noon Wednesday for the Interfaith Vigil for Black Lives. Passing motorists honked their horns in support of the roughly 200 demonstrators, who gathered to hold signs referencing scripture and bearing messages including “We Stand With Our Neighbors” and “We Are All God’s Creation – Put An End To Discrimination.”
The silent protest included about 20 faith groups and additional non-faith-based groups, most based in and around Oakland.
“This message of Black Lives Matter, and fighting for the inherent dignity and worth of black lives, is not going to be silenced any time soon,” said one of the protest organizers, Rev. Gavin Walton of the Hill District's Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church. “We all agree that our God is a God of justice, and that goodness and flourishing of all human beings is what we’re here for, whatever faith tradition you stand for.”
Walton carried a sign that read, “Their blood cries out,” paraphrasing a line from the story of Cain and Abel, in the book of Genesis.
The protest added to a string of demonstrations in the Pittsburgh area, sometimes two or three a day, stretching back more than a month to May 30. That was the date of the first local protest against racial injustice and police brutality following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Organizations represented at the vigil included several Protestant denominations as well as Jewish and Muslim congregations, the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, and secular groups like Oakland Planning and Development Corporation.
“Racism is a white person’s problem. It is something that we created, it’s something that we benefit from, and it’s something that we have the power to dismantle,” said another organizer, Mike Holohan, a Presbyterian pastor who heads the Commonwealth of Oakland worship community.
“Something’s got to change in the way we police, and I think our systems in this country were built by white people and largely serve white people,” said Beth Bush, of East Liberty Presbyterian Church. “Enough is enough.”
Bush, like most protesters at Monday’s vigil, was white. The crowd was also older, on average, than those who have attended many of the recent protests in the region.
Protesters said it was important that people of faith be heard on the issue.
“I actually really believe that we are all created in God’s image,” said Kristen Ehrenberger, of 3rd Presbyterian Church, in Shadyside. “There is a divine spark in each of us, and the United States is not treating all of its citizens that way. And so we want to show that we are all in this together."
Joyce Matthews, a congregant at Grace Memorial, carried a sign reading “Justice, Peace, Unity.” She said it was important of people of faith to demonstrate to show “that God is on our side.”