A cross-section of faith-based leaders provided a peace-filled presence between two divergent groups during competing protests last week about policing in Downtown El Paso.
Faith Peace Keepers were present as several hundred protesters calling for defunding police gathered in Cleveland Square on June 10 at the same time as a smaller group supporting police. The faith organizers said they chose to be there after the El Paso Police Department fired tear gas and projectiles to break up a May 31 protest.
“Our idea with Faith Peace Keepers was that people would be between protesters and counter-protesters so that those who support Black Lives Matter could not be attacked,” said Dylan Corbett, director of the Catholic social justice organization Hope Border Institute, who helped organize Faith Peace Keepers.
He said that Faith Peace Keepers wanted to make sure everyone had the same right to protest and, as a faith-based group, stand in solidarity with those speaking out against police violence and systemic racism.
“We were meeting with other members of the Interfaith Alliance of El Paso and talking about what would be an appropriate way to bear witness at this protest,” Corbett said. “There were a number of volunteers that were Christian, Jewish, and Catholic that took part.”
The June 10 protests were peaceful, although Faith Peace Keepers put themselves between the competing protesters at times as tensions mounted. They also stood between police and protesters calling for defunding police as they marched for more than two hours through Downtown that night.
Rabbi Ben Zeidman of Temple Mount Sinai said he was looking for a way to be a peaceful presence as a faith leader and individual who could stand with people who wanted to speak with their conscience.
“I felt like this was a good way to find an alliance with them,” Zeidman said. “Yes, of course my faith played a role in being a part of this. Look, the world is broken in God’s eyes and doing acts of justice means we can play a role in healing the world. God invites us to play a role in the world of creation.
“While our systems are not perfect, we can work on that to listen to each other and compromise and work together to hear each other. There’s a lack of listening in our country and that’s a problem right now.”
Bethany Rivera Molinar, co-pastor of Church in the Park that usually meets at Houston Park (but not now due to COVID-19), also felt compelled to be a part of Faith Peace Keepers.
“I was aware of the counter-protests and after the first protest, there was a discussion of how we as ministers in El Paso can be pastors of peace,” Molinar said. “After talking between alliance members, I decided to move forward.”
Molinar said Christians are called to be ministers of peace.
“As we see injustices, we see responses take place on social media in pejorative ways,” she said. “From my Cristian perspective, Christ laid his life down for peace. If I am going to say that I am a minister for peace, then I have to step in and help.
“I think also being a part of the Interfaith Alliance helped me see other people of faith who have similar ideas around peace for the city in this way.”
While the Hope Border Institute focuses a majority of its work on border-related issues like immigration, separation of families, and COVID-19 responses, Corbett said he thinks “the priority that is most important right now is to be focused on those impacted by police brutality and racism. We wanted to make sure that they could speak up against police brutality.”
“We’ve seen at the Hope Border Institute how racism and exclusionary policies have impacted Hispanics, especially on Aug. 3,” he said referring to the Aug. 3, 2019, massacre that killed 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso.
“My faith definitely motivates me to stand with those suffering and to correct injustices,” he said. “For me, there are so many things surrounding us like separation of people along the border as well as COVID-19. Faith is an element to be shared on the side of peace.”
Corbett said the group has no plans at this point to be present at future protests.
Zeidman said that the group was at the June 10 protest as a reminder that people want to be heard.
“Wednesday night’s protest was fine and El Paso is a special place where they understand that speaking means listening,” he said.
Cover photo: Dylan Corbett and other members of Faith Peace Keepers form a line between two groups who organized protests about police in Cleveland Square on June 10. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)