In one of the most peaceful gatherings of protesters since the March 18 shooting of 22-year-old Stephon Clark by police officers in south Sacramento, a visiting Muslim scholar rallied Sacramento's interfaith community for the long haul Wednesday night.
Sheikh Omar Suleiman, an adjunct professor of Islamic studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, was the keynote speaker at a town hall meeting at the Salam Islamic Center. The event was co-sponsored by CAIR-SV, Sacramento NAACP, Sacramento Area Congregations Together and a coalition of 10 mosques from throughout the Sacramento region.
Suleiman is scheduled to participate in Thursday's memorial service for Clark, who had converted to Islam. During the meeting, he and a panel of local faith and community leaders urged an audience of more than 200 people not to let their fervor for justice die, but to fight against what they described as systemic injustice.
Too often, Suleiman said, people don't mobilize because they don't recognize that when one minority group is targeted, all are affected.
"We often don't recognize the pain of one community until that pain visits us," he said.
The shooting of Clark and similar police-involved shootings across the country are not a matter of "a few bad apples", but a problem with the nation's justice system, he said.
Suleiman said he opposes violence but advocates peaceful protests, including those that locked down Golden 1 Center. Disruption, he said is necessary.
"When you make peaceful protest impossible," Suleiman said, "you make violence inevitable."
He urged people of privilege, who have not experienced racism, to imagine that Clark was their son or brother, and to imagine the pain they would feel.
He called on the community to formulate a strategy to affect policy change.
Basim ElKarra, executive director of CAIR's Sacramento Valley office, noted that he is chairman of the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission and urged people to attend the commission's meetings.
He also encouraged people to get involved with groups such as those sponsoring the town hall meeting.
"There are some good things happening," he said. "We need more people to get involved."
Suleiman also urged the community to continue to support Clark's family, noting that families often are forgotten after the emotion subsides.
"Hashtags don't pay bills," he said.