Calling Christians to Take Action for Palestine

My heart breaks for all that is happening in Palestine – the murders, the bombings, the home demolitions, the loss of innocent lives and the ongoing acts of ethnic cleansing – from 1948 to today. My anger burns at the lies being told about what is happening and the misrepresentations of Palestinians who are defending themselves, their homes, their resources and their land from the attacks of both Israeli military and settlers. As a human being, I am appalled at the inhumanity of what is taking place. As a U.S. citizen, I am outraged that my tax dollars are helping fund what is happening. As a Christian, I am furious that Christian Zionists are abusing my religion to provide political support and cover for Israel’s war crimes.

While international news is full of horrific accounts of all that is taking place, here’s a personal account I received this morning from a friend in Jerusalem:

Yesterday my youngest grandson, who turned 15 at the beginning of this month was walking in our neighborhood,  towards the barber shop to have a hair cut,  when he was stopped by 10 soldiers who beat him up before letting him go. Why? Can anybody who has any common sense answer me. There were no demonstrations, and the people in our neighborhood were going about their own business. The soldiers were in their full gear and were  not in any danger. Yet the US continues to buy the gimmick of PM Netanyahu that Israel has the right to defend itself, and it cannot tolerate that his people are being attacked. Does he think we can tolerate our children being hurt, and brutalized by a sick army who shows up out of the blue in our residential areas. Seeing whole families and children  killed by the raids on Gaza, we are grateful for the safety of our children. Maybe the PM should hear some of the voices of his own soldiers from “Breaking the Silence movement,” and should read some of the Israeli press that are accusing him of flaring up the region so he can stay in office and avoid going to jail for his corruption charges. Not at all surprising; nothing is beyond him.  


It was powerful to be part of last Saturday’s Protest for Palestine. I stood with 10,000 people in San Francisco, marching alongside and rallying behind Palestinians who have appealed to the international community to rise up in solidarity and joint struggle. This was just one of 120 such events that took place across the globe. At the protest I issued the following call to the Christian community to act boldly in support of Palestine. I share it with you so we can work together to answer this call.

I am Pastor of Public Witness at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland and a clergy leader with Friends of Sabeel North America who offers a Christian Voice for Palestine. I’m here representing the Christian community that stands with Palestine.

We know that our faith has been misused and distorted to support colonization in Palestine, here on Turtle Island and throughout the world. We know that it is Christian Zionists who are wielding their power in Washington to help fund and provide political support of Israel’s war crimes. We know that there are 10 times more Christian Zionists than Jews in the U.S. and that they are pushing a racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic agenda. We decry the evils they are doing in the name of Christianity and commit to challenging Christian Zionism however we can. Christianity at its core is a religion of freedom from oppression and true followers of Jesus are about the work of liberation.

We take our lead from Palestinian Christians who have offered a Cry of Hope and Call to Action to the international Christian community. They remind us we have a responsibility to name the evils of Empire, to challenge evil from a logic of love, and to embody hope in our joint struggles for liberation. 

To be a follower of Jesus requires bold action for Palestinian self-determination and liberation.

To all who consider themselves Christian in this crowd, I call on you – on us – to act boldly in naming the evils of Christian Zionism, challenging the evils of Empire, and embodying hope as we stand alongside our Palestinian brothers and sisters working for justice, freedom and equality for Palestinians and for all people.

In addition to the unique work for Christians, there are powerful opportunities for interfaith action. Here are two clear asks from organizations I partner with to support Palestinians in this moment:

Sign the petition to Stop Jerusalem Expulsions and Save Sheikh Jarrah

Tell President Biden and Vice President Harris to oppose violence and evictions

As usual, Palestinian resistance is inspiring and inviting – let’s follow their lead and join hands as we work together for a just peace in the Holy Land, in our land, and in every land.

Palestinians and Jews Cry for Justice

This past week I have been in many conversations about the importance of separating criticism of Israel from sweeping definitions of anti-Semitism. The merging of these two items serves to silence Palestinian cries for justice, equality and freedom, as well as water down the violence of true anti-Semitism. And yet, this is exactly what proponents of such a broad definition seek to do, and they are hard at work pressuring political and cultural leaders to comply. Palestinian and Jewish brothers and sisters are asking for our assistance with this critical concern. 

On Monday, the Biden administration said it “embraces and champions” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism that includes criticism of Israel, a definition that several Jewish organizations find problematic. On Wednesday, I met with staff members of Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Senator Feinstein to let them know my concerns. Among them are criticism of Israel is valid and they need to be held accountable for their actions, criticism of any government is constitutionally protected free speech, this definition takes away from addressing true anti-Semitism and the deep harm it causes. I also voiced concern that Janet Yellen (Biden’s pick for Treasury Secretary) has made it clear that she will challenge BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement led by an absolute majority of Palestinian civil society. BDS, which Lakeshore participates in through being and HP-Free congregation, is a practice of non-violent resistance that refuses to participate in injustice. These strategies have huge historic significance in our own country and several denominations have taken strong stands of solidity through their participation.

On the cultural level, Facebook is considering censoring any posts that challenge Zionism, the political ideology that Israel has a right to exist as an ethno-national state and justifies settler colonial practices and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. This Wednesday I met with representatives of Jewish Voice for Peace about these concerns and they asked that I circulate the following petition, supported by dozens of Jewish, Christian and Muslim organizations. I encourage you to sign the petition, adding your voice of solidarity with so many who are fighting injustice in the Holy Land. I was heartened to know that Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church was already listed as an ally in this work!

broad coalition has launched a petition to prevent Facebook from revising its hate speech policy to define critique of Zionism as inherently antisemitic. 


Conflating criticism of the nationalist ideology of Zionism with antisemitism undermines efforts to dismantle real antisemitism. It also severely limits the space for Palestinians and others to express their political points of view, describe violations of their human rights, and share experiences of violence at the hands of Zionists. Please sign and share this petition.

If Facebook decides to move ahead with adding “Zionist” to its hate speech policy, it could silence the critical work we are doing to expose the underlying antisemitism and Islamophobia inherent in Christian Zionism. Those of us who seek a more just world know that we must confront the political ideology and heretical reading of the Bible expressed by Christian Zionists—a group in the U.S. that vastly outnumbers American Jews who embrace a Zionist ideology.   

Thank you for taking action!

P.S. This petition is just the beginning of a global effort – this version comes from Friends of Sabeel North American, a Christian Voice for Palestine.

A Big Day for Georgia

Street leading up to a polling site filled with campaign signs. Standing out amidst all the signs is the reminder
“It’s About Us,” and on the back it reads: “I Matter. You Matter. We Matter. BLACK VOTERS MATTER.”

At the invitation of New Georgia Project and Faith in Action, I flew to Georgia on Monday to serve as a poll chaplain in Tuesday’s historic election. I went to offer a non-partisan ministry of presence and support: to bear witness to what would happen at a few different polling sites in Augusta, to encourage and assist anyone trying to vote, and to document any concerns around access to voting. I experienced much that was deeply inspiring and much that was deeply disturbing. 

The outpouring of community commitment and civic responsibility was moving. Elderly voters brought young people with them, teaching the importance of voting. Young adults brought elderly people with them, helping navigate the voting booth. First time voters came out, approaching cautiously and asking questions, ready to take that final step. I met one young woman who would turn 18 the very next day; while disappointed that she couldn’t vote, she shared her excitement that she was still teaching her young niece all about the process. I heard the exhaustion in a young man’s voice as he rushed to the polls after work, eager to get home but compelled to do his civic duty first. One of my colleagues met a voter who had been shot the day before, yet still stopped by the voting booth on his way home from the hospital. It was so inspiring to see each person do their part, individually and communally, for Georgia, for themselves and for the country. 

PPE for all

Georgia community orgs like New Georgia Project and Georgia Shift came out, creating a party atmosphere with music and radio hosts and SWAG. Asian American Action Fund brought free food for all. People from across the country came out, in partnership and support. In the midst of the excitement, my colleague and I shared waves, smiles and small talk as we handed out PPE supplies and thanked everyone for voting. I met a few of the countless community members who have worked for weeks and months, some even years, to encourage every Georgian to safely exercise their right to vote. This was a day that people had sacrificed their very lives to make happen.

But the day was not without its heartbreaking disappointments, and the insidiousness of voter intimidation was in the air. I observed a young woman unable to vote at the site where her parents, living in the same house, voted. Apparently she was registered at a different polling place. She was eligible to complete a provisional ballot, but was curtly told it would be difficult and entail a lot of paperwork. Although her polling place was just a few miles away, the hostile demeanor of the poll manager was damaging. Frustrated and defeated, she gave up and was turned off from the voting process on what was likely her first outing. As my colleague and I tried to listen to the family’s frustration and provide comfort, the poll manager began yelling at us for interfering. She then proceeded to verbally attack silent onlookers, including the director of the center hosting the polling site. I can’t help but wonder how many voters were discouraged to vote by her hostile demeanor. We filled a formal complaint about what happened, but given she has served as a poll manager for over 20 years, I fear she will continue to hold her position of power.

At another polling site my colleagues witnessed a police officer hanging around, purportedly to ensure traffic safety. He couldn’t understand how his presence at the entry to the polling site might affect voters, and was extremely reluctant to move away. Although noting that he “didn’t want to be here, but my boss made me come,” he had no problem standing in the middle of the parking lot for all to see him watching them. It took conversations with multiple poll chaplains to get him to sit in his car and be less obtrusive. The community could then conveniently park their cars all around his to protect voters from his presence. It was these insidious forms of intimidation, along with a history of violence and voter suppression, that helped me understand the people I met who just couldn’t bring themselves to vote after a lifetime of racist abuse by people in power and the systems in place designed to keep them out.

Perhaps the scariest moment I experienced came when I saw a slightly-past-middle-aged white man dressed in camo fatigues just standing around in the area. I noticed him when he came in, but didn’t think much of it. It was 45 minutes later when he was still standing in the same place, an unoccupied entryway, and I noticed his orange backpack laying on the ground several feet away from him, that I began to worry. His presence could have been benign, but our instructions were to be vigilant. The sakes were high, bomb threats had been made, and the Proud Boys had also traveled to Georgia on our flights. We took photos, reported his presence, were told not to worry, addressed him kindly, and eventually he left. The stresses of the day left me exhausted and deeply disturbed. The reality is that these are experiences and emotions the black community deals with on a daily basis. It was a reminder of the emotional weight of racism that so many in this country constantly carry with them, and that so many white people are oblivious to.

I only spent one day visiting a few polling sites, but it gave me a taste for the amazing work being done in Georgia and the courage and commitment of the community to stand together. It also revealed some of the powers at play in limiting people’s ability to vote in a safe environment, in addition to the overt measures the state had taken to reduce polling places, limit drop boxes, and restrict voter access. These powers – antithetical to democracy – were on vivid display in our nation’s capital on Wednesday, and it was symbolic that their vile and criminal behavior silenced the celebrations and overshadowed the power of the people enacting democracy the day before. We continue to fight for what this country can become – and the people of Georgia, primarily the black community who exercised their rights to vote, organize, and support one another, are helping lead the way.

On the Road to Justice

It has been a hard week. The powerful engage in blatant hypocrisy, outrageous power grabs and violent disregard for human life. Innocent people are dying and families continue to be ripped apart. Lies are rampant. Hatred is on vivid display. I find comfort in communal anger, outrage, and the refusal to accept the dystopia of these difficult days. We continue to fight for a country of justice, kindness and humanity, of inclusion and welcome and community. All are invited to join the fight, to get in good trouble and to refuse to cede the country to the injustices of those in power.

2020 TPS Freedom Bus – On the Road to Justice: Residency Now

This week my journey for justice took me to the Federal Building in San Francisco, where I stood with the TPS community, those who have lived in the U.S. for years (decades, for many) with Temporary Protected Status. In 2018, Trump decided to end this program that provided safety for people whose countries were enduring unrest, violence or natural devastation, thus removing the legal status of 400,000 immigrants. Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this racist decision. 

Those living with TPS have been building their lives, creating families, working in their communities and blessing our country. They are now forced to choose between deportation – separating themselves from their families, communities and lives – or living without paperwork – as second-class residents without rights, living the imminent threat of ICE detention or deportation. In addition to TPS holders, there are another 250,000 U.S. born children of TPS holders who are at risk of losing their parents, being forced to leave their country, or live in fear of ICE ripping their parents away from them. Ending TPS is another of Trump’s many actions to engage in ethnic cleansing of this country’s black and brown residents.

In response to this decision, the TPS community is traveling the country to call attention to their plight, build collective power, warn the immigrant community of the realities of COVID, and uplift the importance and urgency of voting. There is hope that the Supreme Court will weigh in on the injustice of this situation. It is, after all, the failure of congress to create a path to citizenship for TPS holders, along with Trump’s xenophobic attempts to terrorize the immigrant community, that has led to the inhumane choices they are facing. 

The TPS freedom bus, known as La Libertad began its 8-week journey across the country this week. Bay Area faith leaders gathered in support of the TPS community to bear witness to their pain, offer prayers for justice and safety, stand in solidarity, and provide blessings for their journey.

Faith Leaders standing with the TPS community

The voices of those directly impacted continue to ring in my ears. “We belong here.” Yes. “My parents are upstanding people, which is more than I can say about many politicians.” Absolutely. “Use your vote, because we don’t have one.” Indeed. In fact, the power of the vote is their main plea to the country. Voters have the power to stop these injustices. Voters have the power to change this situation and keep these families together. As La Libertad travels the country, my prayer is that freedom would come to the TPS community. Until that time, we must stand together and protect one another. We must vote for the freedom of all who call the United States home. And we must not rest until freedom comes.

for a World Without Walls

Abolition and Liberation Facebook Event cover (1)

One of my many commitments as Lakeshore’s Pastor of Public Witness is to serve as the Convener of the Bay Area World Without Walls Coalition. Heeding the call from Palestinian and Mexican freedom fighters to unite struggles that challenge all visible and invisible walls that enshrine injustice, we are part of a network of hundreds of communities across the globe organizing, demanding and creating a world without walls of “expulsion, exclusion, oppression, discrimination and exploitation.” You can read the full call for a world without walls here.

While we usually hold a major event around November 9, commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall, this moment of national uprising in the U.S. and intensified annexation in Palestine compels us to respond. I hope you will join us August 28 at 10 a.m. Pacific for an international conversation between Angela Davis and Jamal Juma’, moderated by Kristian Davis Bailey, about the intersections of abolition and liberation in this moment.

Join us for an international discussion of the connections between Black Lives Matter calls to defund the police and abolish the prison industrial complex, and Palestinian calls to tear down all apartheid walls and free Palestine.

Register at

Information about our speakers

Our speakers bring years of on-the-ground experience and strategic thinking to the conversation. Angela Davis has been an activist and liberatory scholar since the 1960s. Her 2003 book Are Prisons Obsolete?  laid the strategic groundwork for the current abolition movement, as did the first Critical Resistance Conference, which she co-organized in 1998.

She will be joined, from Palestine, by Jamal Juma’, a leading grassroots organizer since Palestine’s First Intifada in 1987. A founding member of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees, Palestine National BDS Committee, Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange, and Palestinian Environmental NGO Network, Juma’ is coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign and Stop the Wall.

Kristian Davis Bailey, who will be moderating their conversation, is a co-founder of Black for Palestine and a co-author of the 2015 Black Solidarity with Palestine Statement signed by more than 1,000 Black activists. He was a member of Black Youth Project 100 and Students for Justice in Palestine. Kristian currently works at Palestine Legal and is a member of LeftRoots.

There has never been a more critical time for this thought-provoking and inspiring conversation. Please join us as we sharpen our understanding of these critical issues and build our capacity for effective resistance!

In addition to joining this powerful webinar, I also encourage you to check out the world without walls online exhibit Walls in Times of Pandemic where I wrote about the powerful work of Bay Area activists to destroy the walls of ICE detention in the past few months.

Interfaith Vigil at San Quentin

Interfaith Prayer Vigil at San Quentin, photo by David Bacon

The conditions at San Quentin State Prison are deplorable. The current COVID outbreak has spread to over half the population, sickening over 2000 incarcerated individuals, over 250 employees and claiming the lives of at least 19 people. These illnesses and deaths were preventable – they are the direct result of the lack of concern for those incarcerated and the inhumane treatment they regularly endure.

On July 19, the interfaith community gathered outside San Quentin to decry the conditions that led to this outbreak, demand an end to inhumane practices that cause such conditions in the first place, and declare a vision for restorative justice practices that provide healing for individuals, communities and society. Over 100 people gathered to hear testimonies of incarcerated individuals and their families, mourn lives needlessly lost, and provide public witness of the faith community. We prayed together: Respect Human Lives – Release the Captives – Restore Our Community.

Our united, ongoing prayer, photo by David Bacon

We made four demands of Governor Newsom: immediately improve the conditions at San Quentin, ensuring that all who are incarcerated are treated with mercy, compassion and human decency; intervene and stop all transfers among prisons and ICE detention centers, ending further spread of the virus; release incarcerated individuals, starting with those in great danger: the medically vulnerable, the elderly and the trans community; reduce the population at San Quentin to 50% of capacity to allow for social distancing – release should be to family, the faith community or other community-based re-entry programs, not other prisons.


I encourage you to add your voice by calling Governor Newsom to share our demands, as well as to offer the prayer below, which grounded our action. To learn more about this action, and for a sample script to email, call or tweet the governor, click SQVigilToolkit. Here is a video of the service.

Interfaith Prayer for San Quentin Action

Respect Human Lives 

As human beings, all people, all of us

  • All of us deserve to live – and for incarcerated individuals COVID has become a death sentence
  • All of us are capable of redemption – no one deserves excessive punishment
  • All of us are more than our worst mistakes – we all have the ability to grow
  • No one deserves to live in a cage

Release the Captives

  • Release people to families, faith communities, or community based re-entry programs
  • Release the vulnerable – because they are at great risk – especially the medically compromised, the trans community and the elderly
  • Release those who have completed base terms – they have done their time
  • Release those who have been unduly burdened by lengthy sentences or life without parole – undoing racial injustice
  • Release those who are currently low risk – they are in need of community support
  • Release those who have changed – they are ready to return
  • Release imprisoned community leaders – we need their wisdom and leadership
  • Release us all from the inhumanity of prisons to new ways of community redress & repair.

Restore Our Community

  • Restore families and loved ones
  • Restore individuals to their communities
  • Restore justice to black and brown communities
  • Restore humanity to all communities
  • Restore us back to the oneness of our humanity

photo by Joyce Xi

Growing Light

Sunrise outside San Quintin State Prison, July 1, 2020

“What if this is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?” suggested Sikh faith leader Valerie Kaur, in the wake of the election of Donald Trump. Her words, pregnant with potential, describe well the moment in which we are living – a moment where death is palpable – people are dying of disease, of disadvantage, and of dehumanization at the hands of the state – but also where we are surrounded by signs of new life – community coming together and demanding better, community thinking creatively about how we can support and strengthen the vulnerable in our midst, community enacting new ways of welcoming the stranger, loving our neighbor and protecting and serving everyone around us. Kaur invites us to breathe deeply in this moment of tremendous labor pains, breathe deeply into the birthing process of welcoming something beautiful, something long awaited, something that has the potential to transform our nation. Below is one way I witnessed the power of hope and the promise of new life in the midst of darkness and death this week.


Wednesday morning faith leaders and friends of Chanthon Bun gathered outside the west Gate of San Quinton State Prison, awaiting his release. Bun had received parole, but it was unlikely that he would walk out of prison a free man. Instead, ICE’s practice is to transfer people scheduled for release from prison directly into detention facilities, thus doubly punishing those who do not have full citizenship status. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) commonly notifies ICE of release dates for immigrants, despite our state’s sanctuary laws, thus enacting a prison-to-detention pipeline.IMG_6432

Because ICE transfers often take place in the early hours of the morning through back gates that are used for transfer of supplies, we arrived at 5 a.m. in hopes of witnessing Bun’s transfer. We dreamt of intercepting the transfer, but, realistically, we assumed our role would be to witness it, document it, and be a visible sign to Bun that he wasn’t forgotten as he endured this unjust form of double punishment.

fullsizeoutput_581dBun’s words, “to live is to hope,” grounded our gathering. At sunrise, we offered prayers of hope and pleas for justice and mercy – for Bun and the 1100 inmates in San Quinton who have tested positive for COVID. Knowing the harsh conditions inside, we watched darkness transition to light and clung to Bun’s inspiring words. Bun’s story did not begin with great hope. Born in a Cambodian refugee camp, growing up in poverty, enduring bullying, discrimination and war trauma, Bun found his way on the streets of Los Angeles. At 18, he received a 49 year sentence for a crime he committed that resulted in no physical harm. Yet while in prison, Bun found ways to turn his life around, heal from the trauma he’s endured, educate himself and give back to his community. Bun’s life bears witness to the hope he proclaims.
We don’t know why ICE didn’t show up Wednesday morning – perhaps our presence made an impact, or the countless phone calls to Governor Newsom and CDRC Secretary Ralph Diaz the day and weeks before, or the growing protests outside of San Quintin and media coverage of their COVID outbreak and inhumane conditions, or simply ICE’s notorious ineptness. Whatever the reason, were overjoyed to be able to welcome Bun back to his community who has been walking with him and working with him on his journey for freedom. We were overwhelmed by the power of miracles, the promise of hope, and a moment of transformative clarity that the efforts of those serving love and liberation are making a difference. This celebration is yet another reason to renew our commitment to the world we long for – the world we are fighting for – the world that we are birthing into existence.

On this 4th of July, I am mindful of the words of Langston Hughes, “America will be,” and am encouraged to keep serving as midwife to a land of liberty and justice for all.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man [sic] is free.



Counter CUFI: Invest in Justice

I believe in a God of Justice – a God of love and life and liberation. I believe that the voice of God is ringing out in the streets filled with protests, in the voices of those at city council meetings demanding more community resources, and in the thoughts of those who are re-considering policing and what it means to protect and serve the vulnerable in our communities. I believe the vision of God’s justice has local, national and global implications, and we are invited to participate in the shaping of a just and equitable world.

Because of my deep beliefs in the need for justice – both challenging injustice and investing our resources in building a just society that provides for all it’s residents – I will be participating in Counter CUFI: Invest In Justice. There are deep connections between the struggles for justice in the U.S. and in the Holy Land. Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is the largest pro-Israel lobby group in the U.S., co-opting Christian theology for political gain. They are supporting and accelerating Israel’s aggressive actions of injustice and inhumanity against the Palestinian people, including ongoing theft of land and resources, state violence and killings, demolition of homes and whole communities, restricting freedom of movement, and codifying racial divisions in apartheid laws.

As a Christian, I am horrified by the ways CUFI is co-opting Christianity to promote these injustices. As an American, I am outraged that my tax dollars ($3.8 billion annually) are helping underwrite these atrocities. As a person of conscience I feel compelled to rise up, speak up and act up to demand better of my faith, my country, and my fellow human being.

I invite you to join me this Sunday for an action holding Christians United for Israel accountable for their support of the racism against and colonization of Palestinian people and lands. We will demand that our government invest in justice both locally and abroad. This action will be grounded in a worship service in the Christian tradition, lifting up the prophetic cries for justice and righteousness. I have been organizing this powerful service entitled Enough! God Demands Justice and Righteousness based on Ezekiel 45:9 and Matthew 23:23.

I believe God’s visions of justice and liberation can be realized. I believe this moment of widespread outrage at business as usual has transformative power. I believe that there are ways each of us can participate in creating new ways of caring for one another. I hope you will join me in worship and action on Sunday!

National Day of Mourning and Lament

Memorial for Choung Woon Ahn outside ICE headquarters in San Francisco, photo by Deborah Svoboda

Mourning and lament are powerful ways to express grief, anguish and heartache. And there is much to lament in this moment. Over 100,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. Our nation is on fire with rage at ongoing and unchecked police brutality, racial inequality and the ubiquity white supremacy. Our lives and our world have radically and unexpected changed in the last few months and we live with uncertainly of what’s to come. We mourn. We lament. We cry out to God in anguish.

Last Thursday, I co-lead a memorial service filled with mourning and lament. We honored the life of Choung Woon Ahn, a 74-year-old who needlessly died in ICE detention. We held the service outside of ICE’s regional headquarters in San Francisco, holding them accountable for his death. Below are the words I shared with the gathered crowd, as well as the video. I share them as another reminder of state violence that is killing black and brown lives all around us. Let us lament and mourn. Let our outrage become a transforming fire.

We gather as family, friends, community advocates, faith leaders and concerned citizens to honor the life and mourn the death of Choung Woon Ahn – a beloved brother and uncle and long-time resident of Bay Area who was unjustly forced to endure the last months of his life in ICE detention at Mesa Verde, where he died in isolation. Our service will lift up those who knew Mr. Ahn and the joy he brought his community. It will lift up those who worked with him for his freedom and it will highlight the inhumane treatment he endured at the hands of ICE and GEO group, the for-profit prison operator that ran the detention center. We will offer prayers from multiple faith traditions as we remember and mourn Mr. Ahn, as well as voice our outrage at the abhorrent conditions that caused his death.

Welcome to Mr. Ahn’s family – we can’t begin to know your pain but we share our deepest condolences, we share our rage at this needless loss of life, and we share our commitment to demand accountability for your brother’s death. 

Welcome to all who are gathered together, those who are physically present, those who are watching online, and those who will watch the recording of this service – this memorial transcends both space and time as we unite in our grief, our lament an our cries for justice. Our physical gathering is outside of ICE regional headquarters in San Francisco to hold them accountable for the death of Choung Woon Ahn. It was their insistence on unnecessary incarceration, it was their refusal to release Mr. Ahn with his medical conditions, and it was their inability to provide for his safety and care that we are here today. ICE and GEO group are responsible for his death.

Mr. Ahn’s death is not an isolated event. We have with us a tombstone of Carlos Escobar Mejia – the first ICE detainee to die of COVID related causes – and we lift up Santiago Baten-Oxlag, who died in detention in Georgia this week, also due to COVID. In addition, we mourn the tragic and needless deaths at the hands of the police of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others. We decry all forms of state violence that are killing black and brown lives in our country. Black and Brown Lives Matter. Immigrant Lives Matter. Every Human Being Is Sacred Across All Borders and we as a community stand together in grief, rage and commitment to our community.

We are surrounded by the hearts of loved ones who are still in detention, and we pledge our commitment to these brothers and sisters – to work for their freedom, release and return to community. As an interfaith community, we believe in the power of redemption – we are ALL so much more than any mistake we have made, we believe in the need for restoration – of individuals to community and of community to each of its members – and therefore we demand release of all who are unjustly, needlessly imprisoned. 

All photos by Deborah Svoboda.

Video of the memorial can be viewed here:

Have A Heart, Governor Newsom

Last Friday, I stood with 29 other faith leaders to send a message of solidarity to ICE detainees on hunger strike, a message of urgency to Governor Newsom to do everything in his power to free detainees, and a message of outrage to ICE leadership about their deplorable and deadly practices. This Friday, I invite you to join me in amplifying these messages of hope, justice, solidarity and joint struggle.

Our action was in direct response to inmates at Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield. On Good Friday, several dorms went on hunger strike due to the harsh conditions they were enduring, as well as their inability to practice social distancing or protect themselves from COVID-19. The photo above, left, is of detainees sending a message of love and dignity to the larger community, inviting us to stand with them. The photo on the right, taken last Friday, was our response. Please join us today, as we continue to work together to liberate those in detention.

Join us this #FaithfulFriday to lift up the faith voice and call on Governor Newsom to #HaveAHeart and #FreeThemAll!

There are four ways you can join us: 








  • Invite your family, friends, and loved ones to take action with us by sharing:! 

Here’s a graphic to post, along with your own heart photo. For messaging, more ideas on the actions you can take, or more info on the deadly conditions detainees are enduring check out:

Take action today to share the love sent to us from ICE detainees in their journey toward liberation!