SILVER LAKE — About 130 people attended a candlelight vigil on a church’s front lawn Sunday evening to honor the memory of a Minnesota man whose death after being arrested by police sparked protests across the country.
"I was overwhelmed at how many people were there," said The Rev. Brad Jagger, who organized the program outside of The Church in Silver Lake on Kent Road.
Two community leaders who attended the vigil — Silver Lake Mayor Bernie Hovey and Stow Mayor John Pribonic — offered positive feedback on the gathering.
Hovey described the ceremony as "moving, peaceful and and inspiring," while Pribonic said he felt the vigil had "a very powerful, calming effect."
The Church in Silver Lake hosted the ceremony in remembrance of George Floyd, who died May 25 after being arrested by police in Minneapolis. Four police officers involved in the case were fired and all four are now facing criminal charges in connection with Floyd’s death. Former officer Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck, is charged with second-degree murder. The other three officers are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Jagger said he felt people needed an outlet for the array of emotions they were experiencing since Floyd’s death and the resulting protests happening in many cities, including Akron and Cleveland. He also believed community members wanted a safe environment where they could gather, one that was both non-confrontational and which respected the social distancing that people are urged to practice to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When he publicized the vigil, Jagger said he set some ground rules: no signs, no chants. Instead, the gathering would focus on prayer, and attendees were asked to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
Jagger said he told those in attendance that they had come to the church’s front lawn "because something deep within us drew us." Jagger said he told the crowd that the gathering was "about your emotions and a place to let them out as a community."
Jagger said there was a moment of silence at 8:46 p.m. to represent the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that Chauvin had his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck. As they held candles, attendees also engaged in nine minutes of silence, an exercise that Jagger described as "very powerful." He said he was keeping the time during the nine-minute period of reflection and noted that once the elapsed minutes passed the point at which Floyd lost consciousness, he "felt a little extra tug at my heart."
"It was an emotional and powerful …cathartic outlet to be part of that moment," said Jagger.
Hovey said the nine minutes of silence gave attendees a chance "to reflect upon what really happened," and to think about how "this man suffered."
Following the nine minutes of silence, Kate Kooser sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Jagger said he closed the gathering with a "prayer for everyone from George Floyd to the police to everyone in between."
He noted nearly all of the 130 or so people who congregated on the church's front lawn wore masks. Jagger said he had some extra masks that he was able to give to people who were not wearing one.
People gathered with their families or the others they came with and "did a great job social distancing," said Jagger.
Hovey said he felt the vigil displayed "an expression of belief in humanity, and the right of every individual to be valued and respected."
After noting the ceremony did not include any violence, looting or intimidation, Hovey stated, "Take heed Cleveland, Minneapolis, Cincinnati and others, The Church has set the standard."
Observing that 2020 had been a "hectic year," and that "tensions are high," Pribonic noted it was "refreshing" to see this type of peaceful gathering happen. He said it was an opportunity for community members to gather with their neighbors and see "that people really cared." Afterward, he said some attendees told him they "appreciated" the ceremony.
"I think their need was fulfilled," stated Pribonic.
Pribonic encouraged other clergy to "reach out to people" in the same way that Jagger did and noted Jagger organized Sunday’s gathering within 24 hours through messages on Facebook and email.
"We need calming things and grounding things," said Pribonic. "I’d love to see more of this [in the] community."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.