Have we become a nation of bystanders? And what makes some people stop watching and start acting?
A week ago, when Pastor Jon Schrock, father of nine, started a new ministry called The Radical Pulpit, he had no idea how quickly it was going to be pressed into use. His vision was providing a place to discuss touchy and potentially explosive issues in American society.
When the touchiest issue in American politics burst into literal flames after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Kitara Johnson could not stand by either. She is the mother of five, a U.S. Army veteran – and the catalyst for a Declare Yourself night on Tuesday, giving young people a microphone and an opportunity for their voices to be heard.
“Tuesday night was Kitara’s brainchild,” Schrock said.
He brought his sound equipment from Hope Baptist Church in Airway Heights to Riverfront Park’s Red Wagon, other moms and dads pitched in to organize food, and the first Declare Yourself night was born.
The most powerful moment on Tuesday came when Johnson stood on stage and prayed for blessing and protection over the crowd of 200 or so young people.
A small group of agitators stood on the street taunting them through a bullhorn.
Johnson posted a video recap Tuesday night declaring, “I’m a momma who prayed, this is a God thing. I just saw a miracle.”
She thanked the parents and counselors who came to walk beside the youth, listen to their voices, and help them process their anger and agitation into peace.
“We need mommas and daddies walking these streets with our kids,” Johnson said in her video.
“The detractors, the antagonizers, started screaming about, ‘Burn the city down,’ and got upset at us,” said Schrock on Wednesday morning. Chanting “no justice, no peace,” it was a failed attempt to attract a mob, apparently with intent to riot.
The peaceful gathering was an act of defiance to ne’er-do-wells seeking more of the destruction plaguing other cities.
“The Bible teaches us to stand in the gap,” Schrock said. “It’s about not being a bystander, pressing against the evil to make room for the good.”
On Sunday night, when the first window at the Nike store was broken, Desi Lewis pushed back. Lewis, father of four daughters and a line cook at Luna, didn’t realize he was caught on video as he literally stepped into the gap.
He reacted as a dad, focused on protecting young people who didn’t know how much trouble they could get into and how it would affect their lives. He blocked the broken window, and started a movement that turned into a line of peacemakers linking arms to shut out the looters.
Lewis said he didn’t think he did anything special, just the admonition any parent of a 2-year-old will recognize: “Don’t do that, put it down, use your words.”
He grew up in Spokane, has faced racial stereotypes as a Black man in a white culture. He had been downtown most of the afternoon for the peaceful protest. He said the police were doing their job, stood back while it was peaceful, but when windows were broken and looting started, they had to move in and gave plenty of warning.
“It was beautiful, and then it was ugly,” Lewis said.
Jered Bonneau, father of three, came downtown later in the evening after a call from a business owner worried about looting. He was part of a peaceful group of armed citizens that checked in with the police and left when asked.
Bonneau said the ugly death of George Floyd should have been stopped by the officers who became bystanders instead of upstanders.
“I work at Eastern State Hospital and we may have to restrain a patient for their safety or the safety of others,” Bonneau said. “We as a team have to look out for each other’s actions to de-escalate the situation, step in to relieve someone if emotions run high.”
In the city where Father’s Day was born, this is the story of three dads and a mom who want to protect their children and build peace.
“The entire world is focused on these riots, everybody is listening,” Bonneau said. “Get on that legislative stuff and figure out something you want passed that’s going to help. If you continue to riot, your voice will not be heard.”
Schrock was optimistic.
“We empowered them, we spoke truth to them, had hundreds of side conversation where we as adults were able to speak to the young people and give wisdom, knowledge,” he said. “It was just amazing.”
Schrock hopes the livestreams and videos will go viral in a good way, showing the world a way forward without rioting. In one of those side conversations, his advice as a dad and pastor was: “(Think about) the importance of what crowd you run with. It is hard to fight against the current. If you don’t practice wisdom before you jump in, you’ll be swept away.”