Hundreds turn out to pray for peace in Pittsburgh
Pittsburghers preached a message of love, unity and strength Friday during a Downtown rally for peace.
Speakers for different faiths, races, ethnicities and walks of life empathized with the pain and anger people felt after a tense week in the wake of violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., and concerns about threats of violence in Pittsburgh.
They asked a crowd of several hundred on Grant Street to show love and compassion, to squash hate and bigotry and to come together as a city.
“Where there's hate, we are going to show love. Where there's darkness, we are going to show light, and where there are people that are feeling upset and sad, we're going to give them security,” Mayor Bill Peduto said at the start of rally.
Peduto, who is seeking a second term in office, said in his more than two decades of working at the City-County Building, Friday's rally was the most he's ever heard the word love.
“Ever,” he said.
Leaders from the Catholic, Jewish, Muslim faiths and those representing immigrants and minorities spoke at what was dubbed “A Prayer for Pittsburgh: A Prayer for Peace.”
Wasi Mohamed, executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, urged the crowd not to react to expressions of hate, racism, bigotry and violence with anger but with compassion.
“These barriers are man made,” Mohamed said about what divides us. “We can tear them down and we will break them, and in the places of these barriers that we will break down, and to this Pittsburghers can relate, we need to build bridges.”
Janera Solomon, executive director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, urged Pittsburghers to come together.
“The tragedy of Charlottesville and our president's subsequent responses are really beyond words,” Solomon said. “I believe in thinking forward. Maybe because I'm an artist, I'm a dreamer at heart, but dreams, as I'm sure you know, take actions.”
Christine Camacho, who recently moved to Ohio but still works in Pittsburgh, came carrying a sign football fans could relate to.
“I'm a Steelers fan and my mom likes the Ravens,” the sign read. “If that's not a testament to #tolerance, I don't know what is. #COEXIST.”
Camacho said she has seen a great deal of debate, frustration and anger on social media during the past week and decided it was time to do something.
“It's one thing to be a keyboard warrior but it's another thing to come out and take a stand and not be silent,” Camacho said.
Janis Burley Wilson, the new head of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Downtown, said she is proud of the way Pittsburgh handled the turmoil of the past seven days. She praised Peduto and Valerie McDonald Roberts, the city's chief urban affairs officer, for organizing Friday's rally.
“We all love our city,” Burley Wilson said. “And that sends a message beyond Pittsburgh.”
Peduto and his staff organized Friday's rally after a planned protest outside of Google's office in Bakery Square was canceled. Organizers of the March on Google, a free-speech, anti-censorship rally planned for outside the company's offices across the country, postponed the event out of concerns about threats. Despite posts on social media threatening violence, Pittsburgh police have said they've found no evidence of credible threats of violence.
Groups are still organizing marches and rallies for Saturday. Peduto said he has spoken with mayors of other cities targeted by the March on Google and the mayor of Charlottesville to make sure Pittsburgh is prepared.
“Public safety has been making precautions to anticipate the worst but hope for the best,” Peduto said. “There will be a number of officers in uniform and out of uniform at a number of locations and there will be backup. There will be a significant public safety presence to make sure public safety comes first.”
Peduto said he has backed out of a white-water rafting trip on the upper Youghiogheny River scheduled for this weekend with some friends. He will instead be in a command center in East Liberty monitoring the events.
“My hope is that we get the all clear around 3 o'clock so I can still make it back to the cabin and have some beers,” Peduto said.