‘Faith and Blue’ unify for social justice


Members of the law enforcement and faith communities espoused listening and dialogue Saturday to address racism and social injustice.

Hosted by Bishop Hendricken High School at the school’s football field, Unity 2020 was part of the Faith and Blue initiative by MovementForward sponsored by the Department of Justice. It was one of 500 such events held across the country, which in the case of Rhode Island was organized by the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association and Fr. Robert Marciano, president of Hendricken and pastor of St. Kevin Church, Warwick.

While members of the law enforcement and faith communities equaled those in the stands – about 25 on the field and another 25 in the stands – there was no lack of prayers and an appeal for greater understanding and communication between increasingly polarized factions.

“In recent months we have heard a call from across the country for law enforcement reform within the framework of institutional racism and inequity. Sadly, political polarization in this election year has further divided us and has intensified our country’s collective anger and fear, resulting in barriers to real change,” said Col. Rick Rathbun, chief of Warwick Police.

Rathbun pointed out that this June, 48 Rhode Island police departments signed the “20 for 2020 Promise,” which commits departments to reforming use of force polices, implementing training initiatives focused on racial sensitivity, and improving community relations by increasing departmental transparency and prioritizing community engagement activities to boost public dialogue.

“As voices of protest continue to echo across the country, I would submit that now is the time when we all can begin to listen to what we hear critically. Filtering our ideas through the lens of implicit bias, institutional racism, and social justice inequities is necessary to the process of change but only scratches at the surface of the real need for change. Now is the time to begin constructing a new way of working together to achieve change that reflects thoughtful consideration for the welfare of all, and that looks to the future with genuine hope and care. And that is why we are all here today – to pause, to listen with open hearts and minds, and to set our intention for this process,” he said.

It was a theme echoed by Pastor Chris Abhulime of the King’s Tabernacle Church in Johnston. He related the challenge he and his predominately Black congregation faced when they relocated the church from Providence to Johnston.

“Through willful and sincere commitment, we have been able to build a relationship between the church and our new community,” he said.

Pastor Chris said our nation is reckoning with social injustice and racial inequity.
“Instances of use of excessive force on minorities have threatened the gains of so many years of community policing,” he said. “We must not allow the action of a few police officers to tarnish the good work of so many of our American finest.”

He said we must not dismiss the frustration of Black men and women faced with the weight of suspicion and racism; we must acknowledge the pain felt by members of minority communities, and we must ask, “what type of America would we like to bequest to generations to come – an America laced with hate or an America woven in love?”

William Ferland, chief of the Criminal Division with the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Rhode Island, said law enforcement officers have been “vilified” and blamed for almost every ill of society. He said there is room for improvement and that can happen through training and education, yet he reminded those wearing the blue that they also have a network of support through family, friends colleagues and community and spiritual leaders.

A wide cross section of the faith community voiced their support, including Wendy Joering, director of community relations for the Jewish Alliance of Rhode Island; Father Marcos Girgis, pastor of St. Mary & St. Mena; Iman Farid Ausaid of the Muslim American Dawash Center of Rhode Island; and the Rev. Hance Phillippee of the Transformation Worship Center.

Sid Wordell, executive director of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association, served as master of ceremonies, and the association’s president, Col. Brian Sullivan, chief of the Lincoln Police Department, spoke.

In welcoming those participating and attending the event, Fr. Marciano said: ”We are proud to be a part of this day and this noble effort, celebrated in our state and over 500 cities through the nation as we join faith, integrity and goodness together to forge ahead into the future with respect for all.”


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