With images of fires and looting dominating the news, Chicago’s faith communities joined together for a different kind of demonstration Tuesday to protest the killing of George Floyd.
On a warm, breezy afternoon, thousands of people from churches, mosques and synagogues throughout Chicagoland gathered in Bronzeville looking for the same thing.
“I’m hoping that it will be a peaceful protest and that we can all be together and support each other without any violence,” said 16-year-old Yael Handelman.
Rose Jones-Boyd, 52, said, “This will be very chill. It will not be violent because we’re not going to allow it.”
Her husband, David Boyd, 61, said the march was different from others in the city because “there’s a spiritual component to it, and there’s a moral component to it.”
Bright Star Church Pastor Chris Harris, the lead organizer, echoed those sentiments when he gave marching orders to the thousands gathered on Martin Luther King Drive in Bronzeville, a neighborhood that was once known as the Black Metropolis.
“We’re not here to disturb the peace, we’re here to pray for peace,” he said. “We’re out here to say, ‘Black lives matter.’”
Harris even asked demonstrators to abide by social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But finding six feet of space between people was nearly impossible for the thousands who walked side by side along King Drive.
Those in the front held a giant banner bearing the name and photo of George Floyd, and they marched along to a song penned by Harris himself. Neighbors came out of their homes to dance to the music, cheer marchers on and offer bottles of water.
“Black people built this country; black people deserve to live in this country in peace,” said Tariq El-Amin, imam of Masjid Al-Taqwa on the South Side.
Rabbi Michael Siegel, from the Anshe Emet Synagogue in Lake View, prayed for the “will and courage to honor the memory of George Floyd by creating the America that we can yet be.”
Political leaders also participated in the march, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Chicago City Council members Pat Dowell and Sophia King, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Both religious and political leaders called for more police accountability and justice for black Americans.
Rev. James Meeks, of the Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, said, “We want to get our message back on point. Every time somebody wants to talk about rioting, you talk about policemen who ought to be in jail for killing George Floyd.”
The march, which stretched for more than three miles, ended at Washington Park, where protestors stood on a field to hear final remarks from clergy.
“I want to say ‘thank you’ because we showed them we could [protest] peacefully in Chicago,” Pastor Chris Harris said. He also encouraged churches and other religious groups to take a stand against injustice.
“The church ain’t the church if you stay quiet,” he said. “Faith community, you’ve got to come out of your four walls and get in the community.”
Harris then dismissed the crowds to go home before the 9 p.m. curfew enacted by the city.
As protesters walked back up King Drive, many said the march was a success.
“If there was gonna be a peaceful march, this would be it,” said Karen Riley. “Just like how we’re all going home peacefully now, it’s how it can be done, how it is intended to be done.” Riley, who attends Trinity United Church of Christ, added that “faith without works is dead, so we have to stand up and we have to speak to what’s going on in our society.”
Sergio Cañon, 23, who works for a church in Little Village, said this was his first protest. Describing the racial tensions between black and Latino residents in the neighborhood due to the lootings, he said the Bronzeville protest was an important step toward healing.
“This does not end here,” he said. “We need to continue this work, wherever you live, wherever you work.”
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.