Local pastors lead prayer walk through Mitchell, uniting for peaceful demonstration
As a crowd of peaceful demonstrators marched on Wednesday through downtown Mitchell, they walked in solidarity to support social justice change for the African American community.
While many protests that have swept across the country following the recent murder of George Floyd have sparked chaos and riots in many major cities, Mitchell’s prayer walk remained peaceful, as it was centered around prayer. Although the crowd of roughly 30 demonstrators were steadfast in remaining peaceful, their message to put an end to social injustice and police brutality was a unified response to the murder of Floyd, an African American man who died on May 25 when a Minneapolis police officer held his knee to the neck of Floyd for nearly nine minutes. The Minneapolis police officer who held his knee to the neck of Floyd, was recently charged with murder.
“We gather as imperfect human beings today to lift up prayers of love, support, justice, unity and peace for our community, and for all of those who are experiencing injustice and hatred,” said Rev. Matthew Richards, who delivered a prayer before the march, while standing in front of City Hall. “Lord, help us today to be love and peace for our community.”
Richards, a pastor at Congregational United Church of Christ in Mitchell, organized the prayer walk with a mission to give community members an opportunity to unite in solidarity with the injustice the African American community has faced.
In the midst of protests that have turned violent in several major cities since Floyd’s murder, Richards called on other local church leaders to take part in the prayer walk, seeking to cast a ray of hope in the community with the peaceful demonstration.
“With the murder of George Floyd, and having several African American friends and friends of other races, I wanted to be with them in solidarity,” Richards said in an interview with the Mitchell Republic. “I want to emphasize that this is meant to be prayerful and peaceful with no violence or unruly demonstrations. We want to be a peaceful group and remind the city of Mitchell that there is love for the community.”
Among the crowd of marchers was Kelly Thompson, holding a sign that read, “I can’t breathe,” which were the final words Floyd muttered before he died in Minneapolis. Seeing local pastors and faith leaders come together for the cause around social justice was a unifying moment that Thompson felt proud to be a part of.
“It shows Mitchell is a close community with people who care about justice,” Thompson said, while walking along Mitchell’s Main Street. “I want to show my support.”
Heading into the demonstration, Richards was proud to have the support from the city of Mitchell. The local pastor included a prayer request made by the city officials, asking for the group to pray for the city and the local authorities who protect and serve the community.
Joining the prayer walk was First United Methodist Church Rev. Keith Nelson, who called for unity and love amid the violence and chaos taking place in many parts of the country in response to Floyd’s murder.
“As we gather here, we come from many different faith communities with many faith traditions, but today we are focusing on how we are one in prayer and one in the cause for peace, justice and love,” Nelson said during his prayer. “There is just one people here, your people, and it doesn’t matter the color of our skin. We are one in your love, and may this truly be a meaningful walk in a time of prayer for all of us.”
The prayer walk concluded in front of the Mitchell Department of Public Safety building in downtown Mitchell. There, the group formed a circle to pray for the local authorities who serve in the Mitchell Police Department, asking God to look after their safety amid the violence many law enforcement officers and officials have been facing.
Following the Sioux Falls protests that ended with looting and destructive rioting on Monday, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson issued a statement urging any protestors to do so peacefully. With no issues or violent actions taking place during the hour-long prayer walk, Richards was proud of the group for protesting in peace.
Dan Ziebarth, lead pastor at Mitchell Wesleyan Church, capped off the demonstration, delivering a prayer that called for the support of law enforcement officers. Ziebarth’s message centered around instilling hope for police officers to maintain equal justice and enforcement practices.
“Father, we ask for the protection over the lives and hearts of our police officers, and that you would give them thick skin and soft hearts,” Ziebarth said in front of the Mitchell Department of Public Safety building.