Religious leaders and community members gather at Restoration Plaza for a peace vigil

At a time when many people in the fight for social justice are beginning to question the effectiveness of marching as a form of protest, the religious leaders of Bed-Stuy on Sunday showed that marching still has a meaningful place.

On Sunday, January 11, more than 200 Bed-Stuy community members, including primarily priests, imams, reverends and their congregations– many of them elders– marched in bitter cold temperatures from their houses of worship to Restoration Plaza in a show of peace and solidarity.

From different corners of Bed-Stuy they marched to arrive in one place with a singular mission: pray.

After NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu and their killer, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, became the 16th, 17th and 18th deaths from gun violence to occur in the 36th council district in 2014, City Councilmember Robert Cornegy decided it was time to organize a peace vigil, because he believed it to be one of the last remaining solutions for brokering change.

“To be quite honest, I think that we’re in such a difficult time right now that nobody is going to listen to anybody except their faith leaders,” said Cornegy, following the march. “At this point, because of the rhetoric that has been going on between the mayor and the commissioner and the PBA president, people are tired of hearing that kind of rhetoric. Right now, people don’t want to really hear from elected officials; they want they want to hear from their ecumenical leaders. Right now it’s time for [religious leaders] to begin to assert themselves in the community to get a message of wholeness. “

Religious leaders and community members gather at Restoration Plaza for a peace vigil

At the time of their deaths, officers Liu and Ramos were a part of the CRV– a program that utilizes lights, cameras and an enhanced police presence, which effectively reduced crime in the district by 30 percent.

“You don’t get reduction in crime like that by over policing,” said Cornergy. “You get that because there is faith built between the community and the police department.”

Congregations from more than 20 churches, including Bethany Baptist Church, Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, Friendship Baptist Church and several other temples and churches, participated in the rally. Also joining them were NYPD members, including Deputy Inspector John Chell of the 79th Precinct, where the shooting occurred.

Cornegy pointed out that the violence that exists in some poor districts connects to larger, more complex issues of poverty, mental health, unemployment and domestic violence. However, despite these complexities, community members were united in sorrow for the loss of life and in commitment to a new year with less violence, he said.

Instead of a general prayer, each religious leader at the vigil prayed about a specific thing: improved community relations; an end to violence; and one reverend prayed that officers begin to have better discernment and more compassion

“We all committed that as a community, to begin making Bed-Stuy a safer place, leadership starts from where you’re standing.

“And this couldn’t have happened at a better time,” said Cornegy. “We’re in a new generation that is asking ‘What are we marching for?’ But with the release of the movie Selma and now with this march, we are proving that showing solidarity and showing a commitment to change does in fact make a difference.”

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