SAN JOSE -- A small but vocal group of Santa Clara County religious leaders stood in symbolic solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Missouri., who have protested the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by local police.

The gathering at the front doors of Most Holy Trinity Church in East San Jose was one of about 40 across the nation related to the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. Another event was scheduled for Wednesday night in Oakland.

Since the shooting, Ferguson has been the scene of marches, rioting and clashes between angry crowds and the embattled police department. The anger is a reflection of the community's belief that police brutality -- especially against black male teens -- has reached alarming levels that require prosecution of police officers and even the re-writing of training manuals and codes of police conduct.

At the San Jose gathering, sponsored by the interfaith organization People Acting in Community Together, the religious leaders often raised their hands and repeatedly shouted, "We all belong!" in homage to Brown, who was said to be holding his empty hands aloft when he was shot six times.


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"What the young people, families and clergy of Ferguson are fighting for, is belonging," said Rev. Michael-Ray Matthews, of the PICO National Network of faith-based organizations. "They are standing up for the right to be included in the circle of human concern. To know that they belong and that they are free. Free to live full lives in their communities. Free to pursue their dreams."

Matthews went on to tell the gathering that what the Missouri community heard and felt in the killing of Brown and in the aggressive response to protests was a dire message: "You do not belong."

The list of speakers included the Rev. Jeff Moore, president of the Silicon Valley-San Jose NAACP; Deacon Ruben Solorio, from the Catholic Diocese of San Jose; Jesus Ruiz, a PACT leader; and Pastor Dale Weatherspoon of Good Samaritan United Methodist Church in Cupertino.

"We are standing up not just against the maltreatment of African-Americans or not just for the killing of Michael Brown," said Moore of the NAACP. "We are standing against the overall treatment of people of color all across this country."

Moore, who sounded angry in his delivery, later told a reporter: "I get very emotional about this. How many times have we done this? How many more times will be out here marching and chanting and protesting? I'm not angry, but I am thinking about my young kids. Will they be pulled over one day because they were walking? Riding a bike? For some reason 'black' is the crime and that must change."

The Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones said she had a special message for her fellow "white people," who may not understand why the events in Ferguson have touched so many.

"There is a system of racism that affects us all. It's in the air that we breathe, and we must ask where is that having an impact to how we are responding in any given situation?" said Jones, of the First Unitarian Church of San Jose. "We all must stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson and the Michael Brown family in their need to protest, to speak their history and against oppression and in support of their hope that we all can do so much better than this."

Contact David E. Early at 408/920-5836