Prayers for peace: In wake of Charleston massacre, vigil participants call for racial justice, gun control

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday night in downtown Princeton for a prayer vigil that doubled as a call for gun control and racial justice on the one-week anniversary of the church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina.
An interfaith collection of clergy led prayers for peace, for South Carolina’s and the country’s leaders and for the families of the nine black victims killed at the Mother Emanuel AME Church by a young white man armed with a handgun.
The Rev. Deborah Brooks, pastor of the historically black Mt. Pisgah AME Church on Witherspoon Street, called the shooting a “racist act.”
“It was not domestic terrorism,” she said at a vigil in Tiger Park in front of Palmer Square, where the names of each victim was read aloud and a candle lit in memory of each.
“And my brothers and sisters,” she continued, “we have to take the cover off of these heinous acts that happen to us individually and collectively and correct them as they stand.”
“We’ve got a problem in this country, and we’re all part of it,” said the Rev. Tracy Troxel of Stone Hill Church in Princeton. “And it’s going to take all of us to fix it.”
He said he and three other members of his congregation had returned from being in Charleston and having gone to the church there. He said the victims’ relatives have forgiven the accused gunman, Dylann Roof.
“They modeled to us what it means to forgive,” he said.
Mayor Liz Lempert said in her remarks that the victims’ families and the members of the Charleston church “have taught us all a lesson in peace, love, mercy and grace.”
The issue of guns came up during the service.
“But if that young man didn’t have a .45 caliber pistol, he would not have been able to kill nine people,” said the Rev. Robert Moore, co-pastor of Christ Congregation. “We are deluding ourselves if we think that guns have nothing to do with it. They have a lot to do with it.”
The vigil was organized by Mt. Pisgah working with the Princeton Clergy Association and the Coalition for Peace Action. Organizers put the crowd figure at 318 at one point in the evening, although police on scene could not give an estimate.
The crowd gathered first outside Mt. Pisgah, a historically black congregation founded in the 1830s, in what had been the black section of a once racially segregated town.
The march held a visual symbolism in that marchers walked past another historically black congregation, the Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, located across the street from what used to be a whites only cemetery. Some carried signs reading “stop the hate” and “all lives matter,” while still others sung the words of the hymn “We’ve come this far by faith,”
The racially mixed crowd headed up Nassau Street, another part of town that had been off limits to black Princetonians even into the 20th century, before ending in the park.
“So we are showing Princeton and the world today an example of what God intended for human society, that all of us can come together,” said Qareeb Bashir, the imam of the Islamic Center of Ewing.