A Pastoral Letter in the Wake of the Violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin
(This letter is authored by Rev. Lance Loveall, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Kenosha, and Rachel Yates, Presbytery Executive for Milwaukee Presbytery.)
We write with troubled hearts about the wave of violence that has swept over Kenosha, Wisconsin, beginning with the shooting of Jacob Blake, Jr., on Sunday evening. As is now so prevalent, we have video segments that capture moments and angles, but do not in themselves tell the full story. One video segment shows Jacob Blake, a Black man, walking away from police to his car, where his 3 young children sat. With a gut-wrenching ache, we witness a police officer shoot him in the back seven times.
Photographs and videos also capture the unrelenting violence that followed: looting and arson, destroying livelihoods essential to the community. Cameras record police and National Guard under attack. New footage shows a White vigilante, who intentionally came to the unrest from outside the state, murder two protesters in the street and then walk easily past approaching emergency responders, despite cries of witnesses to stop the shooter.
Cameras capture us at our worst, and they tell part of the story.
Cameras also record us at our best. They record the tearful plea of Mr. Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson, urging us to examine our hearts, so that a nation divided over racism can heal. She offered her prayers for the community of Kenosha, the police, and our country. Cameras capture firefighters risking personal safety to extinguish blazes deliberately set. We see snapshots of volunteers coming together to clean up the debris and begin repairs, strangers helping strangers.
These images also tell part of the story.
In the days to come, we will learn more, and we urge local and state agencies to investigate Mr. Blake’s shooting, as well as the violent aftermath, with transparency and thoroughness. We see in ourselves a tendency to rush to judgment, without the facts, and we must try to avoid a blaming narrative that only tells a part of the story.
And yet, we cannot ignore the obvious racial tension in our country and our community. Time and again, we are confronted by a pattern of Black people killed or wounded by police or vigilantes. The pattern of deaths grips our hearts and makes us moan, “Not again.”
We acknowledge that racism is deeply embedded in our society. We are conditioned, often without our awareness, to see Black men in particular as dangerous and threatening. As our cameras have captured this week, a white teenager can murder two people in the street, injure a third, fire multiple shots toward a crowd of protesters, and boldly shoulder his weapon as he walks calmly past emergency responders. Even with only part of the story, we have to ask: why?
We ask you to pray for Jacob Blake, Jr. and his family in this tragedy. We invite your prayers for the police officers involved and their families. Together let us pray for our community - for peace, for love, for grace, for safety. We pray for the people whose livelihoods and neighborhoods have been affected. We pray for the families of those who lost their lives during the protests. We pray that those who came into this community for the purpose of fomenting unrest will disperse and allow healing to begin.
Christ has called the church to use its voice to demand justice for those who do not have it. As the church, we must be informed and brave enough to tackle the tough issues of race, privilege, injustice, and inequity. We need to speak out against excessive police violence, scrutinize the use of force, and push for change where necessary. We urge the Wisconsin legislature to use this special session to begin that work.
We might never have the full story, but we know it is a story filled with despair and trauma for all involved. We affirm that violence is never the answer, and we say to our Siblings of Color that we see you and hear you. We commit to dismantling structural racism so that no one need fear for their life because of the color of their skin. We demonstrate our commitment by taking action. Suggestions for our first steps are included below.
Ways to do more, now Call to demand an investigation and accountability for the shooting of Jacob Blake. Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian: (262) 653-4000 Kenosha District Attorney Michael D. Graveley: (262) 653-2400 Kenosha Police Department: (262) 656-1234 Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul: (608) 266-1221 Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers - Madison Office: (608) 266-1212 Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers - Milwaukee Office: (414) 227-4344
Tweet to demand an investigation and accountability for the shooting of Jacob Blake. Kenosha Police Department @KenoshaPolice Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul @WisDOJ Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers @GovEvers