Some predominantly white faith communities are fighting systemic racism

Local News

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Some local places of worship with predominately white congregations are helping in the fight against institutional racism.

It has been nearly eight months since George Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, but his death is still driving change in Peoria. Local congregations said they are done being silent about it.

In a letter to the Peoria city manager and council, white allies from different faith communities expressed how they’d like to see the next police chief better support the Black community.

In summer 2020, Peorian Joyce Harant created the Racial Justice Project of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Peoria. The project is an initiative to help break systemic racism in Peoria.

“Predominately white faith communities need to recognize our privilege and to speak for racial justice,” said Harant.

Harant said she realized it was time for white faith leaders to speak up after watching Floyd’s death.

“People with my skin tone have the power to make the change. People who are oppressed can only go so far,” she said.

It all begins, she said, with the city’s police department.

“We have to have a chief that will embrace that there is intuitional racism. It didn’t start with the current chief or the chief before them. It’s part of the culture of this country,” Harant said.

The coalition, consisting of multiple religions, sent the two-page letter to Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich. With Loren Marion retiring from the police force, the letter details the conditions the coalition wants Urich to take into account when appointing a new police chief.

The group specifically called for a new chief with experience working in an area with a large Black community, someone who has publicly expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement, someone who fosters a culture of accountability within the department and does not support a shoot-to-kill policy.

WMBD reached out to Patrick Urich about the letter. In an email, he responded by saying the city recognizes the nationwide issues of community trust in the police, and that these issues exist in Peoria as well.

“The city will be seeking an outgoing, positive and approachable person for the position with a commitment to training, professional development, and community engagement – including equity, restorative justice, and racial bias,” Urich said.

Harant said the change will not happen overnight, but the group is determined to be vocal and visible allies.

She said she hopes the letter is a blueprint for making life easier for Black people in Peoria.

Police Chief Marion retires Friday, and Assistant Chief Doug Theobald will be taking over until a new chief is appointed by the city manager.

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