Updated-Monday, August 25, 2008
Father Patrick Malloy, Rector of Grace Church, Allentown, PA, reflects on the violence that visited his congregation and neighborhood when Jameel Clark was murdered in the parish's parking lot.
Jameel Clark was only 20 when he died on Aug. 10. That morning, one of his friends took sidewalk chalk and wrote outside his apartment building, ''I am my brother's keeper.'' Sidewalk chalk is a child's toy. Jameel was hardly more than a child. I had to walk over the words because I live in that building, too.
Jameel was shot to death behind Grace Episcopal Church at Fifth and Linden in Allentown. The members of the parish went there for Sunday morning worship just eight hours later. They had no idea that only feet from where they parked, a man had been killed in the darkness. I had to go to Grace Church on Sunday morning because I am the priest.
The violence that plagues Center City Allentown suddenly feels very close. I am not afraid. I do not fear that I will be hurt, living and working here, no matter how close the violence comes. The mayhem that waits in the darkness outside my home and outside my church does not choose random targets. The Morning Call reported that Jameel predicted his murder the very day it happened. Something was up and he knew it.
Jameel and I must have crossed paths many times in the lobby of our shared home, but I took notice of him only once. He opened the door for me and called me, ''Sir.'' People don't call me, ''sir,'' unless they want to sell me something or I'm dressed like a priest. He didn't, and I wasn't, and so I was struck by the politeness of a man who seemed too old and yet too young to be so polite: a man caught between childhood and maturity.
We Christians root our moral convictions in a belief that God loves the human race and each human. From that conviction -- that each person has a place in the heart of Infinity -- every moral decision flows. Tragically, though, there is so much in the lives of so many people that tells them something else: that they are not worth much at all, that the universe is not a benevolent place, that life -- theirs and everyone else's -- is ephemeral and cheap. And if that is so, why not murder a 20-year-old man over what we will surely discover was a trifle?
Just a few feet from where Jameel Clark died, in the same parking lot, the people of Grace Church gather in the dark every Holy Saturday night -- the night before Easter Sunday -- and we light a great fire. It is an ancient tradition, beginning in sixth century Ireland. And from that fire, struck in defiance of the darkness, we take light: a light that we cherish as a sign of Jesus rising in defiance of the darkness of death. I wrote about that fire on this page two Easters ago. ''The fire marshal stands and watches, and well he does, because you never know what a fire in the city might do. We live in Center City Allentown. We are people born of Easter light. We will not shrink from the darkness. We'll stay put, and we'll build a fire.''
This coming Sunday, the congregation will process from their sanctuary to the place where Jameel was murdered. The parish has invited the public to join them in taking "back the streets from the chaos and evil.''
Read the rest here.
Here is a report about the Sunday procession to the parking lot along with reactions of parishioners, neighborhood members who took part and parts of Fr. Malloy's sermon.
Those at church Sunday morning proceeded outside following the church's Paschal Candle, their hymns rising above the muffled noise of light street traffic. They stopped at the spot where Clark was slain and prayed that God would deliver the world, the city, from the darkness -- from crime, injustice and suffering.
Most of the approximately 60 people who filled the pews Sunday were members of the Grace congregation. A few were not.
Inside the church, Malloy told of handing one letter to a young man whose hand was marked with a Latin Kings symbol. Still, he said he wasn't scared as they shook hands and looked each other in the eye.
''We were like two soldiers in a complex war protected by the rules of engagement,'' Malloy said.
Friday also was the day The Morning Call ran an opinion piece by Malloy on Clark's death, the worth of every human, and the need for light in the darkness. He said things changed when he got back to his office and read the online comments about his article. ''I was afraid as I read the comments that had been posted,'' he said, characterizing some of the commentary as cowardly, vicious and full of hate.
Unlike the man he met on the street that morning, Malloy said, the online commenters ''have no tattoos that would let me know the rot that has claimed their hearts.''
Malloy said those people were angry over the desire to find light in the midst of the darkness of Clark's murder. ''The suggestion that the light was stronger than the darkness enrages them,'' he said.
Here is a portion of Father Patrick's sermon, which may be found here:
Every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, our fellow citizens kill people. We pay them for what they do. But I want to believe that they suffer many sleepless nights because of it.
Ask the wife of a man who came home from the Second World War or Korea or Vietnam. Ask the wife of a man who was not the same man who had gone off to the fields of battle. Ask them, and they will tell you that people forced to take a human life – even for a just cause – instinctively know that they have transgressed a great boundary, and they will never be the same again.
But not everyone.
On the streets of our cities, people take human lives every day, and they do not lose one minute of sleep. They do not sink into deep depression. They do not die inside. Maybe they don’t die inside when they take a life because they died inside a long time ago. Even when they are only 18, maybe they died inside a long time ago.
Imagine taking a gun and killing a person over a lost fistfight. Imagine taking a gun and killing a person over a broken string of beads. Imagine taking a gun and killing a person over anything less than the most noble and selfless of causes. And, even then, imagine taking a gun and killing a person and not feeling a crushing pain that will follow you for the rest of your life.
What must have happened in the life of that tragic 18-year-old man who killed Jameel Clark? What must have happened in his life – the life only of a child -- that could have stripped him of the very thing that makes us human?
The death of Jameel Clark, and the nearness of his death, forced me to confront social decay as I never had before. But even then, I was not prepared for the horror that was still to come. The op-ed piece I published in Friday’s Morning Call had barely appeared online when the vicious, hate-riddled responses began to be posted. Do not fool yourself into thinking that we can protect ourselves from social decay by fleeing to the tree-lined streets of the suburbs. Do not think that it rots only the hearts of young black men or young Latino men in the broken city. Do no think that the jackals are all Latin Kings. The decay spreads wide, and most of the time it is as invisible as air.
If it were only a rot in the hearts of the Latin Kings, we could at least hope to control it. We could look for the gang gesture, the gang colors, the gang markings. And we could run. And until Friday, I fear that I was naïve enough to think that something like that was true.
But then the responses began to mount in response to my article. Many times standing here and writing on the pages of the Morning Call I have said that I am not afraid to live in Center City Allentown. And even with the death of Jameel Clark, it is still true. But I am deeply afraid to live in a world with the people who responded to my op-ed.
The Diocese of Bethlehem blog newSpin has a recap of Jameel Clark's murder and the response of Grace Church, Allentown, PA here.