Valley faithful pray for justice in Ferguson, Mo.

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Allan Irizarry-Graves of Youngstown prays with residents at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Youngstown on Wednesday night at a vigil for Ferguson, Mo., which is besieged by civil unrest after a police shooting of a black teen.

By Sean Barron


Mark Gavin recalled having returned home from work Monday evening to see the image of an armored vehicle on TV — and his 4-year-old son’s reaction to it.

“My son asked, ‘Why is the Army on TV?’ and I told him that it was the police,” the Warren man explained.

Gavin’s son, Mark Gavin Jr., was not watching war footage from another country. Instead, he was seeing news coverage of the continued unrest in Ferguson, Mo., in which protesters clashed with police, some of whom were in riot gear and backed up by military vehicles mounted with machine guns.

Gavin and his son were among an estimated 60 people who attended Wednesday’s Faith on the Move prayer vigil at Tabernacle Baptist Church, 707 Arlington St., on the North Side. The 45- minute gathering was one of 17 simultaneous vigils throughout the Mahoning Valley in which attendees called for justice in Ferguson and across the country.

The gatherings also are to begin a series of conversations to look at systematic and structural racism and injustice that many people of color face, organizers said.

Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, has been the scene of daily and nightly protests since Darren Wilson, 28, a white Ferguson police officer, shot to death Michael Brown, a black, unarmed 18-year-old.

Since the Aug. 9 fatal shooting, efforts have been underway to try to restore peace to the community amid what many see as an overly aggressive police response to protesters, the majority of whom are peaceful.

The local vigils also were to coincide with a 1,000-clergy march and peaceful rally at the Clayton, Mo., prosecutor’s office. Leading that effort was a national network of which the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative is an affiliate.

MVOC is an organization that has partnered with more than 100 neighborhood groups, faith-based entities, labor unions and nonprofit agencies in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. The collaborative works with residents and neighborhood leaders to address community concerns.

Gavin, an MVOC organizer, said he believes the shooting in Ferguson is symptomatic of the type of police brutality leveled mainly against minorities that occurs daily in the country.

“It seems to be open season on black men,” he explained. “I’m afraid for myself, my cousin, who’s 18, and my son in an environment where it’s easy to kill a black man.”

During the vigil, participants held hands in a large circle and prayed for the protesters, the Ferguson community, Brown’s family and law-abiding police officers. They also prayed on behalf of Youngstown and against racism and economic inequality.

One of those who called for justice in Ferguson was the Rev. Christopher McKee, Tabernacle’s pastor.

In addition, it’s important to pray and work for better relations between law-enforcement officers and their communities as well as increased civic participation in the democratic process, he said.

“We also want to pray that people are protected by their government, not victimized by it,” the Rev. Mr. McKee added.

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