'Prayer for Peace' Unites City Officials, Interfaith And Community Leaders Against Hatred

Aug 18, 2017

Hundreds gathered in front of the City-County Building on Friday afternoon as Mayor Bill Peduto and a diverse group of interfaith and community leaders joined to unite the community against bigotry and hatred.

"I've worked here for 22 years," Peduto said. "And this was the most I've ever heard the world 'love.'"

Announced earlier this week, "Prayer for Pittsburgh, Prayer for Peace" was a response to the violent clash in Charlottesville last weekend and was marked by a number of speakers, live music, games and food trucks.

Peduto opened and closed the hour-long event and local Bishop Loran Mann emceed. Leaders of Pittsburgh's Catholic, Jewish and Muslim communities called for Pittsburghers to meet hate with love, and representatives from the city's Black and immigrant communities echoed this message.

"I understand that we as individuals don't have the same interests all the time, but we've got the same stake in a healthy, prosperous, loving community," said Janera Solomon, an African American community leader.

The now-canceled "March on Google" had raised fears that alt-right demonstrators may show in the city. The march, scheduled before the events in Virginia, was billed a First Amendment protest against the firing of a Google employee in California who circulated an anti-diversity memo, and was headed by a self described "new right" conspiracy theorist.

Other intersectional events were planned in its place, including a march in Homewood on Saturday to celebrate the city's black community and a traditional Friday night Shabat service at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill.

Leaders at the event emphasized the need for unity.

"The American dream cannot be fulfilled by one group or two groups, but by everyone together," said Wasi Mohamed, executive director of The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.

Police and local activists said Friday they believe an alt-right demonstration might still occur.

"There will be a number of officers, both in uniform and not in uniform, in different locations to make sure that public safety comes first," Peduto said.

Peduto said the city's "planning for the worst but hoping for the best" in regards to potential alt-right violence.

The mayor told attendees, who filled most of the space between the building and Grant Street, that the city is also talking about how to address concerns about the Stephen Foster statue in Oakland, which depicts the Pittsburgh-born composer as a young, well-dressed gentleman above a barefoot black man strumming a banjo. Activists have called the statue offensive for years and urged that it be taken down.

"We've asked Pittsburgh's art commission to work with the historical society and others to come up with a reasonable approach to what this statue represents and then make a judgment at that point," he said.

Renee Piechocki, director of the Office of Public Art, which is not a city department, said Thursday she'd support a process to re-home the work. 

"What is placed on public property is an indication of what a place values," she said. "I don't believe Pittsburgh values causing people pain."