Tacoma’s religious community responds to Ferguson decision

No one blocked streets. They didn’t protest. There didn’t appear to be law enforcement present.

But Tacoma’s religious community did respond to a grand jury’s decision this week to not indict a white Ferguson, Missouri police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

First United Methodist Church opened its doors for vigil and conversation Monday, when the jury’s decision was announced. People were still arriving when the group had to pack up, prompting organizers to return Tuesday.

“They really were in need of a place to be,” said organizer Janjay Innis, 28, who talked with visitors as they trickled in and out. “We just wanted to open up a space where people could process what happened. A place where they could be honest about the fact that racism exists.”

She said she thought the vigil would be a first step in an effort by the church to hold those conversations, and said she hoped to work with other community leaders to show support for body cameras among local law enforcement.

“We are not exceptional in any way,” Innis said about Pierce County. “We need to take a look in our communities about how people of color suffer, and how people of color are treated.”

Tom Fairchild, a member of the church, said he was angry and upset after the grand jury’s decision.

He said he’s been a civil rights activist for 50 years, and saw the vigil as another way to show his support.

“You don’t like to feel alone,” he said. “I’m meditating, praying, and it has calmed me down.”

Ferguson was also a topic at the annual Thanksgiving interfaith service in Tacoma Tuesday, held this year at Temple Beth El.

Congregations from around the city gather each year for the event, and Rabbi Bruce Kadden said beforehand that he planned to mention Ferguson in his welcoming remarks.

“Certainly, it’s on everybody’s mind,” he said. “I was glued to the set (Monday) night.”

He said he was sure some in the congregation would agree with the decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, and others would not, but that he saw the issue as broader than the one incident.

“Things are not where they should be in this country,” Kadden said. “As people of faith, we need to address those challenges, even though we may not agree on the best way forward.”

Aquilla Cole-Leslie said she’s been a member of the Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Tacoma for more than 50 years. It made sense, she said, that religious leaders would touch on the Ferguson decision during the interfaith service.

“That’s what we’re trying to do, come together,” she said. “We are one nation. Let us be united.”