To the Editor:
We the community of McCormick Theological Seminary, along with the rest of the city of Chicago and our nation, are saddened and dismayed by video footage documenting the fatal police shooting of 17-year old Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke.
In January of this year, African American Presidents and Deans of Theological Schools issued a call to action in order to respond to the killing of African American men and women in the streets of cities across America. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) presidents issued a statement of support and committed ourselves and our seminaries to respond faithfully. As a seminary and Christian community that believes in and works for the gospel values of liberation and justice, McCormick is called as theopen letter says, “to arise from the embers of silence to speak up and speak out as the prophet of old, ‘let justice run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream’ (Amos 5:24). As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The release of this police video, documenting the shooting of Laquan McDonald, will send ripples of action and emotion throughout Chicago. The video and the delay of its release are testaments to the fact that our system of law enforcement is in dire need of reform. We cannot be silent, passive, or neutral as we continue to witness the violent relationships between law enforcement and community members, endangering the lives of especially young people of color. We see violence in our streets, and we see the need for justice. We want to be agents of change in the city, and so we will respond in ways that support affected communities, families, and individuals. We will seek justice for individuals and reform of systems that do harm to communities of color.
As affirmed by the ministry of our seminary’s Annual Theme, which seeks to equip transformational leaders to build peace, McCormick has committed itself to being a peace-maker in our city. We are committed to responding to our urban context, engaging in the social, political, and theological issues that affect our seminary community and our neighbors in Chicago. Additionally, we are humbled to participate in this work, in which we have attracted, nurtured, and formed leaders—students, faculty, staff, administration, trustees, and alums—who are advocates for social justice and God’s shalom. We are called to be change-agents in this city, our nation, and our world. It is this deep sense of God’s calling that compels us to affirm this identity and vocation in the days and weeks following the video’s release.
We stand in solidarity with the activists of our city, young and old, who are calling for justice and transformation. We stand with our alumni/ae, many of whom are faith leaders in Chicago, who are ministering to their communities in the wake of this video’s release.McCormick, the institution that nurtured them and helped them discern theircall, supports them in those efforts. We stand with those in our city who seek to build bridges, to bring justice and restore trust between communities ofcolor and law enforcement. We stand as a seminary community in a state of holy prayer and action, as we seek to respond to God’s call for justice and peace.
As a seminary in the world, McCormick is in a position to offer space to our community and neighborhoods in which positive action can arise. McCormick alumna, Minister Michelle Day, aleader who is working with the Restorative Justice Community, is organizingamong faith-based communities across Chicago to open their doors to all those who feel the need to lament, to process, and to act. Through Restorative Justice-led dialogues and circle conversations, Minister Day and other faith leaders are actively building community, healing relationships, and transforming the dynamics between residents and law enforcement. McCormick is joining with our neighboring churches on the South and West Sides by opening our doors, as well as our hearts, to provide sacred space for this peace-making initiative. Details of when and where these conversations will be held will be posted on our website.
In addition to providing safe space for dialogue and healing, McCormick continues to pray for our city and our nation, knowing that our action is also a form of prayer. We pray that the release of this video will result in reform of our law enforcement policies and procedures. We pray that the voices of the youth and the witness of experienced social justice advocates in Chicago will be heard and included in these efforts. We pray that the relationships between the police and the communities that they serve will be transformed into partnerships based on respect, trust, and compassion. We pray for continued guidance and courage to stand in the gap and live out our call to God’s justice and peace in our beloved city of Chicago.
Frank M. Yamada
President of McCormick Theological Seminary