To the beat of drums, about 100 people marched and rallied in Minneapolis on Thursday night in what originally was planned as a celebration but became a community gathering of grief for the nine people shot and killed Wednesday in a Charleston, S.C., church.
The evening vigil followed what was originally planned as a commemoration of Juneteenth, a holiday dating back to 1865 when Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and that the slaves were free.
But for those who walked a quarter-mile from the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center to the front lawn of the Sumner Library, the shootings in Charleston were a cruel reminder of the continued struggles and violence endured by far too many 150 years later.
“Black lives do matter,” said Barbara Milon, executive director of the Wheatley Center. “We want the community and the world to know that … violence is unacceptable, any form of violence and especially hate crimes.”
Over recent months, people of all races have marched through the streets of Minneapolis to protest the killing of blacks by police across the country.
Some of those demonstrations turned turbulent. But Thursday’s peaceful rally was a show of strength and support for those gunned down Wednesday night in Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“When you have black people killed, it doesn’t matter who the perpetrator is — if they’re killed needlessly and senselessly, it’s a form of racism and hatred,” Milon said, walking near the front of the procession.
“I’m heartbroken,” said the Rev. Ashley Harness, a minister at Lyndale United Church of Christ. “We have to show up for those who are persecuted and stand up with them. … Black lives matter, but we’re not treating them like they do. We have a lot of repenting to do as white people and as Christians.”
“Amen, to that,” said her colleague, the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel.
The 21-year-old man arrested in the Charleston church shootings doesn’t seem to be an “outlier,” Voelkel said. “We don’t seem to live in a country where black and brown lives matter. If we did, we wouldn’t open the newspaper every day and see another black or brown person violated.”
As the Juneteenth rally morphed into a vigil, the names of each of the Charleston victims was read aloud, followed by a moment of silence.
Colored ribbons tied onto a string fluttered in the wind. The ribbons, with messages of support written by those who gathered at the Sumner Library, will be sent to the church.
Earlier Thursday, about 40 people gathered for a noon vigil at the Minnesota Church Center in Minneapolis to “condemn the reprehensible murderous hate crime” and pray for the victims of the shooting and their families.
“The murders are a stab to the heart of all decent people everywhere,” read a joint statement by the Minnesota Council of Churches, the Minnesota Catholic Conference and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and Dakotas. “Yesterday’s murders are a reversion to some of the worst moments of our nation’s history.”