Photo: Participants at the rally Tuesday.
In the warm twilight of Tuesday, more than 250 men, women, families and children arrived at the courtyard of St. Joseph Parish in an act of community contemplation after what Belmont Police Chief Richard McLaughlin described as “a terrible week.”
The residents came to demonstrate, in the truest sense, their concern to the violence inflicted onto two African-Americans – in Baton Rouge and Minnesota – and five Dallas law enforcement officers that left them dead and a nation in shock.
But the night would not be filled with slogans or protest placards, rather a quiet reflection and the light of more than a hundred candles.
“This event was prompted because there were a lot of conversation that ‘We need to do something and do it soon and to say really how much Belmont cares’,” said John Robotham, a leader of the Belmont Religious Council which with Belmont Against Racism and the Belmont Police Department organized the rally for hope and healing.
The event began with prayers for the victims, survivors and for courage and understanding.
“Spur us to root out the demons of anger, hatred and racial disparity from our hearts and minds and our society,” said Parish member Suzanne Robotham.
Rabbi Jonathan Kraus of the Beth El Temple Center noted while “there is holy work for us to do” in acts of kindness and the pursuit of justice to help heal ourselves and the country, “before we can reach across the chasm of hurt, misunderstanding, distrust and violence, we must open our eyes with those we share communities but who, if we are honest, we really don’t know very well.”
“Even as we confess the legacy of racism and bigotry that continues to be a poison thread in the fabric of America, we must find the courage, the faith, and the strength to proclaim along with Anne Frank, ‘I simply can not build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.'”
Quoting from a passage from the Quran – “O mankind. We created you from a single pair of male and female, making nations and tribes, that you may know each other” – Furqan Sayeed, who graduated one month ago from Belmont High School, said what struck him is the phrase “know each other.”
Those words connote mutual respect and understanding “and that’s very important to keep in mind when we hear when those horrible things happen that attempt to divide us. I pray to God that we don’t get divided, and we face any challenge as a community together.”
McLaughlin quoted US Attorney General Loretta Lynch who called for “action; calm peaceful, collaborative and permanent … we must continue working to build trust between communities and law enforcement … and guarantee every person in this country equal justice under the law.”
“Above all, we must remind ourselves that we are all Americans and as Americans, we share not just a common land but a common life. Those we lost this week have come from different neighborhoods and different backgrounds. They are mourned by all of us,” said McLaughlin, who said his department is “here to serve you … to work with you, to make our community the best community we can.”
As the candles were lit, Robotham read from Dr. Martin Luther King’s Nobel Lecture, and the gathering sang verses from “We Shall Overcome” and “America the Beautiful.”
While Belmont is far from the despair and confrontation occurring in other parts of the country, Robotham said this demonstration was necessary “because sometimes we do need to protest and speak loudly.”
“There are times in our town when there is a racial divide or divisions along ethnic or religious lines and we need to call that out and to make a statement that we do care about dialogue and living with and knowing each other and not just tolerating our neighbors,” said Robotham.