Religion

Charlotte rally held as ‘spark for action’ against violence, bigotry

Dianne English, left, and Thakor Topiwala shoot a selfie, along with others in the crowd, during the Peace in the Park: United Against Violence rally in Marshall Park on Sunday, March 29, 2015.
Dianne English, left, and Thakor Topiwala shoot a selfie, along with others in the crowd, during the Peace in the Park: United Against Violence rally in Marshall Park on Sunday, March 29, 2015. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Holding signs promoting peaceful coexistence, about 200 people of various faiths gathered in uptown’s Marshall Park on Sunday afternoon to call for an end to violence against minorities – religious and otherwise.

At a time when Charlotte has been debating, often with harsh words, the rights of those in the LGBT community, several clergy in the parade of speakers said it was also necessary to stand up against what one called “violence in our language,” including bullying and hate speech.

Words can be “weapons that tear at the fabric of the human spirit,” said the Rev. Robin Tanner, who leads the Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church. “We cannot be silent witnesses when gay, lesbian and transgender people are called all manner of horrible names or accused of all manner of horrible actions.”

The rally also focused on recent killings of minorities – three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, four Jews in a kosher market in Paris, and several unarmed black men in Charlotte; Ferguson, Mo.; and other cities – that have increasingly been in the news.

After asking the crowd whether “black lives really matter” in America, the Rev. Rodney Sadler Jr. recited a list of African-Americans who were killed by police officers even though the victims had no weapons.

“You might think that black lives matter,” said Sadler, who teaches Bible at Charlotte’s Union Presbyterian Seminary, “if it weren’t for Jonathan Ferrell, killed just a few miles from here (in 2013) as he tried to get help from police officers after an automobile accident.”

Attorney Mo Idlibby, who is Muslim, remembered his three young friends and fellow Muslims in Chapel Hill – Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha – who were gunned down last month by an angry neighbor.

“An act ... of hate against one of us is an act of hate against all of us,” he told the crowd.

The rally also recalled those Jews recently killed in Paris by terrorists affiliated with a group claiming to represent Islam.

And another Muslim speaker, Imam Atif Chaudhry of the Islamic Society of Greater Charlotte, assured his listeners that true Muslims condemn such slaughter.

“We hate, we despise, extremism,” he said. “We are the followers of a man (the prophet Muhammad) who preached mercy.”

There was also music, poetry, and the signing of a peace pledge. And Rabbi Jonathan Freirich of Temple Beth El asked everybody – Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Unitarians and others – to pull out their smartphones, find somebody nearby whom they didn’t know, then take a selfie with them and post it on social media. He even suggested a hashtag: #coexist.

Rabbi Judy Schindler, who came up with the idea of the rally, said the 20 sponsoring groups and their flocks plan to build on Sunday’s words.

“This is not a Kumbaya service on a spring day but a spark for action,” said Schindler, senior rabbi of Temple Beth El.

After the rally, UNC Charlotte professor John Cox said he came to support an event that brought people of different backgrounds together.

“That’s the best antidote to fear and bigotry, to know people,” he said. “A lot of people have been misled about (groups of) people they don’t know.”

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