Pastor James Thomas, of Living Word Community Church, places a flower bouquet atop one of several ceremonial caskets during an interfaith memorial service for George Floyd, Monday, June 8, 2020, in Los Angeles. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina

In Los Angeles, Black Lives Matter activists and clergy denounce police brutality during George Floyd memorial service

LOS ANGELES (RNS) — Clergy and activists gathered in the middle of a downtown Los Angeles intersection Monday afternoon (June 8) to stand with Black Lives Matter and declare their support for efforts to defund the police.

Standing among them was the Rev. Rae Huang, a Presbyterian pastor and organizer.

“We repent today. For too long the faith community has been complicit in kneeling on the necks of our black brothers and sisters,” she told the crowd. 

“Today, oh God, we stop praying and we turn our prayers into action, turn our songs into movement, turn our mourning into marching as we take the streets and demand justice.”

Hundreds attended the event — part memorial service, part rally — to honor George Floyd and other victims of police violence. They held signs that read “Jews for Black Lives,” “Black-Brown Unity” and “If Not Now When?”

Clergy members from different faiths prayed for eight minutes and led a moment of silence.

During the memorial, white clergy stood on a protective line facing law enforcement while black clergy and others participated in the service at the intersection of Broadway and First Street.

Clergy members and other speakers stood atop the bed of a truck parked in the middle of the intersection, in front of four caskets with flower arrangements and photos of victims of police killings. Crowds spilled to adjacent streets. 

People came from Orange County, Long Beach, South Central Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley for the memorial. Four funeral processions made their way to the rally with “Black Lives Matter” emblazoned on numerous cars.

The processions and rally were organized in partnership with Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles; Newsong Church; CLUE: Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, a network that includes Catholics, Christian evangelicals, Muslims, Jews, African-American churches and Korean congregations; and other organizations.

Guillermo Torres, CLUE’s immigration program director, said more than 2,000 cars took part in the procession.

Clergy members participate in an interfaith memorial service for George Floyd on June 8, 2020, in Los Angeles. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina

At the rally, Paula Minor, a Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles organizer, stood among clergy and activists and declared that “Black Lives Matter is a spiritual, spirit-led organization.”

Minor said the movement always begin its actions, meetings and demonstrations with a spiritual offering.

“We pour the water. We call for the names of those spirits that honor us, encourage us, help us continue the fight for justice, the fight for freedom,” she said.

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, called on people of faith to challenge the system perpetuating police brutality. Abdullah said she had been raised in a Baptist church where she learned that the “best of black Christianity” is about the struggle for freedom.

“You cannot claim to be a Christian and then bow down to white supremacy,” she told the crowd.

She also warned clergy of the dangers of “cozying up to power” and spoke against clergy kneeling with police officers. 

“It is our sacred duty to fight for the full freedom of our people — not a comfortable place in oppression.”

Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles is calling on the city of LA to defund the police department. The organization is advocating for the People’s Budget, a plan for the city that would focus on housing, mental health and public health.

The Rev. Melinda Teter Dodge of Los Altos United Methodist Church in Long Beach, stood in the line facing police with other clergy members.

“It’s an immediate way that we are called to use our privilege today,” Dodge told Religion News Service.

“I follow a God who leads us to peace, wants a peaceful world, and for all to know love and freedom and absolutely to never be treated with brutality,” she said. “This work must happen today, now, every day going forward in order for that to be the world we live in.”