By Tyronda James
“Our beloved city is disintegrating into chaos and we must save our city,” Rev. Lewis W. Stewart, president of United Christian Leadership Ministries of Western NY, Inc., (UCLM) said who has called for a “Day of Peace, Justice, and Reflection.”
Along with Dr. Dwight Fowler, vice president of UCLM, Stewart has met with civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson via Zoom to discuss Jackson’s Rochester visit and discuss present issues.
“Reverend Jackson has played key roles in various communities in which disorder erupted due to police shootings of unarmed black individuals. If all goes according to plan, he will arrive next week with his staff in Rochester,” Stewart said.
“We’re going to meet with the mayor. We’re gonna meet with city council. We’re going to meet hopefully with the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Stewart said that Rev. Jackson expressed his concerns, “and he wants to come here to help heal this crisis. To bring together the community,” noted Stewart.
“We’re calling on the clergy to be involved in this and not just black clergy, but Jewish clergy, Islamic clergy, everybody, because we are all stakeholders in this community. And if we don’t get it together, now we never will be able to get it together. We’re talking about a holistic collaboration of all religious faiths, community activists getting together with Rev. Jackson in order to sort this problem out and see what we can achieve.”
“People are in pain, in mourning and outraged by the murder of Daniel Prude, who was treated inhumanely and was suffocated while in the custody of the Rochester police department. And our hearts go out to the grieving Prude family.”
Stewart said, however, Daniel Prude’s memory should best be honored by continuing to fight for justice peacefully and nonviolently.
“We cannot remain in this chaos. Our goals must be clear, achievable objectives about justice. We must develop goals, which reflect our personal and collective desire to transform both law enforcement and the criminal justice system. We must become solution-based,” he said.
“What we need is systemic transformation,” Stewart said there needs to be an end to systemic, structural, institutional and cultural racism in Rochester and all of America.
Stewart doesn’t think RPD needs to be a part of the mediated conversation with Rev. Jackson. “RPD is the culprit of the department, right? RPD is not innocent. There has been a persistent and continuous pattern of disrespect for black people for decades. I would say even going back a hundred years or so.”
Stewart then mentioned several names of individuals who have died at the hands of RPD.
“Law enforcement, the district attorney’s office and the judiciary must know that they can no longer treat black and brown people inhumanely, callously, and disrespectfully.”
UCLM defined four goals, one the arrest and prosecution of the police officers who murdered Mr. Prude, total revisioning of the way policing is done, an overhaul of the criminal justice system, including the judiciary and holding elected officials accountable and making them transparent.
Stewart said the day of “peace, prayer, and reflection” that he calls for should focus on what has accomplished and re-evaluate the goal and path ahead with clear goals and models.
“A model for peace and justice. A model for transforming policing. A model for ending gun violence. A model for collaboration, a model for reconciliation. A day of peace, justice and reflection, that’s the time we can be proactive in community service engagement, organize for voter registration, organize for census taking, promote social and solution oriented police reforms,” said Stewart.
Stewart said the demands of protest organizers for the resignations of city elected officials are unachievable and that change is made at the voting booth.
“People are crying out for justice and they’re trying to do everything they can to obtain justice, but calling out for the resignations of different city officials who are some elected by the community, like the mayor, or like Sandra Doorley is not going to take place,” Stewart said. Though he applauds the persistence through peaceful protests taking place.
“If you’re willing to organize for change and not look at star power and being in the media all the time, but do the real hard work for change, then change can come about,” Rev. Stewart said.
“But let me just say this, they need another plan of action. And they need achievable, measurable objectives and goals. If they want change in the city and what’s happening now is not going to lead to systemic change at all.”