Bahai News -- Kansas City Star - Sadly, we still need this whistle-blower Posted on Fri, Apr. 25, 2003

Sadly, we still need this whistle-blower

The Kansas City Star

Last year some concerned religious leaders met at Donnelly College to decide whether they should pronounce last rites over Clergy and Church Against Race Violence or breathe new life into it.

Joel Zeddies, who started the Kansas City, Kan.-based group in 1998, had resigned as the coordinator. He was the glue holding about 200 members together.

Zeddies helped mobilize people in churches to respond to racial violence. They held prayer rallies to support victims and let perpetrators know this community won't tolerate such acts of hate.

The group also contacted law enforcement authorities, urging them to investigate the attacks. But the group floundered after Zeddies stepped down to work on an autobiography.

It came back to life last week with the announcement at Donnelly College of a new race violence hot line. That number is (816) 529-7001.

Sadly, it already has gotten calls. Racism unfortunately still exists, mandating that Clergy and Church Against Race Violence remain viable and responsive.

It was just supposed to be a one-time effort five years ago by concerned church people responding to threatening, racist letters that went to two Kansas City, Kan., families in a mostly white neighborhood.

I was at that genesis. But I also recall covering the 1977 start-up meetings of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime. That group grew out of the community's outrage at unsolved murders of black women, but Ad Hoc turned into a nationally known organization, now called Move Up, partly because homicides and other crimes remain a problem. Until racism, prejudice and discrimination are vanquished, this area will continue to need Clergy and Church Against Race Violence.

"It's really domestic terrorism," said the Rev. Jim Gordon, interim coordinator of Clergy and Church Against Race Violence. Many people who've called the hot line clearly are afraid.

Father Ray Davern, vice president of the group, called race violence immoral. "Our intent is to be the whistle-blower," he said.

Rev. Greg Suttington, group president, said members who answer the hot line calls will determine whether authorities should be notified and if prayer rallies are needed. He described a recent incident in which a Muslim man was being harassed at his warehouse job in this area.

The man is being threatened and called Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. "It makes it hard to deal with your job in a situation like that," Suttington said.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks followed by U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have contributed to a rise in hate crimes, victimizing Muslims and people of color. That increases the need for Clergy and Church Against Race Violence.

But the group wants perpetrators of hate to reflect on the humanity of others. That pause may keep people from reacting maliciously toward minorities because of what they see on TV news.

"Our mission is to sensitize people that this is not acceptable," Davern said. "By lifting up that issue, people will say, `You're right.'

"Before that they might not pay attention because it doesn't affect them."

Clergy and Church Against Race Violence also plans to serve as the voice for people who are too afraid or too beaten down by bigotry to go public, Suttington said. As the community's conscience speaking through area churches it won't let intolerance pass.

Davern and Suttington said Clergy and Church Against Race Violence also will work closely with other area groups promoting diversity. The goal is to get people to realize that we live in a multifaceted, multiracial, multiethnic world, Davern said.

Barry Sims with the Baha'i faith said its founder more than 100 years ago said peace and security are unattainable for humankind unless unity is firmly established. Until then the world will continue to endure problems.

Let's hope one day this community, with the help of Clergy and Church Against Race Violence, will achieve racial harmony.

©Copyright 2003, Kansas City Star (KS, USA)

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