Religious leaders gathered at Freedom Corner in Pittsburgh’s Hill District Monday afternoon to pray for peace in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
Masked and physically distancing themselves from each other, the crowd filled the historic civil rights memorial to hear pastors, rabbis and bishops speak about the events surrounding Floyd’s death.
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Reverend De Neice Welch with Bidwell Presbyterian Church spoke about the struggle black people encounter when witnessing violence, and trying to protest peacefully.
“We are living in the tension of an outrageous, inhumane murder, and our divine call to be as human, as humane, and a loving as we possible can,” Welch said. “We are between the tension of anger tinged with rage and yet the determination to be peaceful in making sure all voices are heard.”
Pastor Dale Snyder with Bethel AME Church in the Hill District emphasized the need for systemic change not only in police departments, but throughout the entire judicial and legislative systems.
“We need judges to be truthful, we need the prosecutors to prosecute,” Snyder said. “How long, how long, how long do we got to suffer?”
With signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “I Want My 3 Sons to Live,” the crowd responded loudly and enthusiastically to the calls for justice and the end of racism. Bishop Loran Mann with the Pentecostal Temple Church Of God In Christ in East Liberty said generations of trauma endured by black Americans have led to unrest and action:
“The source of our pain today is every black American who has died at the hands of police and victims of injustice,” Mann said.
He went back 400 years to the beginning of slavery in the United States and said since then, due to Jim Crow laws, racial profiling and mass incarceration, life has not gotten much easier for black people.
“In order to bring order to the streets of our cities, while we don't condone violence, we do understand the source of our pain,” Mann said.
Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop Dorsey McConnell, who is white, addressed what he called indifference among white congregations and the need for action.
“Nothing will happen until white leadership of predominately white churches get out of our heads and move that anger, powered by love, through our hearts and to our feet,” McConnell said. “So we come alongside black and brown leadership and say, ‘your agenda, not ours.’”
After the speakers concluded, the crowd walked from Freedom Corner, down Centre Avenue to the City County Building. Throughout the walk, attendees called out the names of black people killed by police, including 17-year-old Antwon Rose, who was shot by a white officer in East Pittsburgh in 2018.
East Liberty demonstration
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At a protest later in the afternoon hundreds assembled in front of the Target store in East Liberty with signs including, “My Melanin Shouldn’t End Me” and “If They Won’t Protect Us, We Will.” They chanted the names of black people killed by police, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her own home in Louisville, Ky in March.
Roads were blocked as marchers made their way down Penn Avenue and police stood outside the crowds. At one point, white protesters were asked to put themselves in front of someone black to protect them. They also began to lock arms.
“If we go back to the same racist system, we’ve done all of this for nothing,” one organizer said.
Another speaker, an 18-year-old named D'Nico, said, "I know we're all tired, tired of seeing black people get killed, not just black, people of all races. They're tired of being killed by police."
The protest ended peacefully. But police said a splinter group remained and intended to vandalize and loot stores, and threw rocks and water bottles at officers. Police responded with smoke canisters and fired bean bag rounds to disperse the crowd. Protesters dispute that version of events, and said police acted without provocation. Peduto said he will have a transcript of all communications prepared for his review. Twenty people were arrested.