Pray for an end to racially charged violence and shooting deaths in our country, but also work to end the causes behind them.
That was the message Sunday afternoon at an ecumenical prayer service at St. Mark AME Church in Duluth's Central Hillside neighborhood.
The vigil was organized by the Duluth Chapter of the NAACP and local churches in response to the killings last week of young black men by police in Baton Rouge, La., and the Twin Cities area as well as the killing of five police officers in Dallas by a sniper with an assault rifle.
The tiny church was packed to overflowing as some 150 people - many standing in aisles and sitting on folding chairs - sang, prayed and hoped aloud for an end to gun violence and for national healing after more deaths of young black men at the hands of police and the death of police at the hands of a sniper.
But speakers also said the nation must address the root cause spurring the racial violence - namely bigotry and racism that still runs deep and wide, said Rev. Richard Coleman of St Mark AME Church. People need to look beyond the separate violent acts and see the "bigger picture" of black people being profiled, of economic disparities and ongoing oppression that runs along racial lines, Coleman added.
"Those truths are the reason we are here today," Coleman said.
A sign behind the pulpit read, "Let your faith be bigger than your fear." Many of Duluth's religious and political leaders attended, including Mayor Emily Larson, County Attorney Mark Rubin and most city councilors.
The problem, said Claudie Washington, president of the local NAACP chapter, is that "nobody needs to be killing anybody."
"You know we can fix this problem of hate and racism in America,'' Washington said.
Rev. Kathryn Nelson of Peace United Church of Christ in Duluth said "we are bleeding black and blue and it must stop," and continued with a common thread of the parable of the good Samaritan who helped a battered stranger along a road.
Everyone has to be a good Samaritan, Nelson noted, and get involved to heal racism and violence.
"We inherit the kingdom of God not by walking away,'' she said.
Rev. Cathy Schuyler of Duluth Congregational Church said the first step is to acknowledge that the "streets of the city are broken" and then to be agents of repairing them.
"We mourn with the families of lives cut down too soon, for this society where violence it seems is determined to take over," she said. Yet there remains hope "that we might not be known for our killing but for our caring."
Susan Dailey, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Duluth, said she attended the prayer vigil to show her support for any effort that will help end racial disparities across all levels - from housing, education and jobs to the profiling of young black men.
"I know how my adrenaline goes up when I have an encounter with law enforcement. Imagine having to absolutely fear for your life when that happens," Dailey said. "My heart breaks that, in this day and age, we are still allowing all of these disparities to combine to tell people of color 'you don't belong here.' It disgusts me that we are telling them, 'you don't belong here.' "