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No Justice, No Peace

by Rev. Jessica R. Chapman

Three days after the shooting death of Alfred Olango, a resident of El Cajon, California, I received an email from various clergy in the area. The email was sharing the time and location of a prayer vigil and peace rally and requesting the presence of local clergy. The prayer vigil was intended to be in direct response to the spiritual needs of the Greater San Diego community as well as Alfred Olango’s family. In the wake of numerous police shootings over the past few years, this one finally hit home. On September 27, 2016, Alfred Olango’s sister called the El Cajon police hoping they would respond to her brother who was in need of assistance stemming from a mental health condition. Upon dispatch, the El Cajon police labeled this call a “5150,” which warranted police to be accompanied by a trained professional in the mental health field. However, police arrived with no such professional, guns drawn and seemingly with a preconceived notion of Olango and his perceived threat to the community. Alfred Olango was shot and killed that Tuesday afternoon, leaving behind a host of family members, including a young daughter.

This shooting sparked outrage throughout San Diego and surrounding areas. Protests broke out and “America’s Finest City” showed that it, in fact, had some work to do. Immediately following the shooting of Alfred Olango, his story and that of the police officers involved, received widespread media coverage throughout the country. This thirty-eight-year-old’s death became increasingly public as a video of the shooting was released by authorities. America watched on as a young black man was killed by the police.

The morning of Saturday, October 1, I attended the prayer vigil and peace rally in El Cajon. Shortly after the beginning of the vigil, Alfred Olango’s family were ushered into the crowd. Carrying signs bearing their loved one’s face and name, they boldly expressed their grief. Many were in tears, holding hands and holding up one another as they publicly ritualized their frustration and anguish over the loss of their brother, son, uncle and father.

Olango’s brother was asked to stand behind the podium and speak to the grief his family experienced. His words were an entanglement of Olango’s story, who he was, and what his family lost. If one arrived to the rally not knowing Olango’s story, they left with a clear picture of who he was and what tragically occurred to end his life. He was a fun and loving brother, a great friend, and a wonderful father. However, conversation of Olango’s debilitating mental illness and the city’s lack of caution in responding to his needs served to prove this was a complicated death, a messy death, a death filled with more questions than answers.

As a native of San Diego, as a clergy person, and as an advocate for black lives, especially those who suffer from mental illness, this shooting stirred within me a desire to act. I showed up to the vigil wearing all black, and donning a clergy stole that possessed symbols of unity and Christian love. I stood amongst a plethora of clergy and ministers from a variety of faith traditions; Islam, Judaism, the Nation of Islam, and various Christian denominations. We stood, in front of hundreds of people, praying, speaking words of encouragement, speaking words of comfort and extending our support to all those present who were experiencing the grief of losing someone within their community.

Shortly after the vigil, we marched. Our path took us past the El Cajon Police Department who blocked traffic for us as we reached our final destination. All along our march the words, “No justice, no peace!” were sung from our mouths. These past few years have demonstrated how institutionalized racism and a sub-par criminal justice system have unjustifiably contributed to the senseless murders of black men and women. There has been no justice and no peace. Alfred Olango’s death also shows us there is much room for improvement when it comes to resources for mental health for our first responders. May we continue to invoke the name and memory of Alfred Olango as we seek courage in the struggle for justice and peace.
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Rev. Jessica R. Chapman is currently a PhD student at Claremont School of Theology. She seeks to find ways health narratives can merge and connect with narratives of faith.

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