Rev. Lewis Stewart: A Throwback Leader for Social and Racial Justice


The United Christian Leadership Ministry (UCLM) is an ecumenical coalition of religious and civic institutions formed in 2013 creating a movement for justice and revolutionary community transformation.

UCLM is headed by Rev. Lewis Stewart.

Southwest Tribune: let us get straight to it.

Rev. Stewart, you are a throwback. Today, most ministers are not in the streets taking on issues pertaining to social justice, they prefer to stay behind the pulpit. Why today is the- ‘on the ground approach’ that you employ, is just as important as it was when it was employed by Black ministers during the civil rights movement?

Rev. Stewart:

Because number one: Our people have been enslaved, brutalized, systemically and systematically dehumanized for centuries. And therefore, the approach is relevant to the history of the Black church to the likes of David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Adam Clayton Powell, Dr. King and C.T. Vivian. All these great leaders stretching back hundreds of years. They were all churchmen. And churchmen are basically in terms of the Black community and have been for centuries the natural leaders of the Black community. The Black church for Black people, up until approximately forty to fifty years ago was a place for social gathering and spiritual and community engagement. So, the Black church has played a very important role in terms of rites of passages for Black people.

Southwest Tribune: Martin Luther King Jr., once said Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. Do you have the support from local white Christian ministries in terms of fighting for social justice issues?

Rev. Stewart:

That is what makes UCLM unique. We have a few white pastors that belong to the UCLM. Although the majority are Black ministers. We are what I call a non-clergy organization because our main thing is the struggle for social justice and the struggle for liberation. We believe this is what God would have us to do. To liberate our people from barriers of discrimination in terms of economic development, systemic racism in education, employment, career development and the justice system and issues that warrant police accountability measures be put in place. That is what we are summoned to do. We are summoned to go into the arena and fight for the poor and fight on behalf of the voiceless and to speak truth to power to say this is what is going to be done. We do not believe in just standing out there screaming like some groups do. We have an agenda that we have submitted and are continuing to work to see that these proposals are implemented.

Southwest Tribune: What would you like to see happen when it comes to reforming the Rochester Police Department (RPD)?

Rev. Stewart:

We believe that the RPD and all police departments need to be changed. Now, the change must start locally but it must also emanate from the federal government. They are 18,000 police agencies in the United States of America and each one of them has their own rules and regulations. So, there should be standardized federal regulations to govern all police departments. However, on the local level there is a lot we can do.

First of all, we must have citizens hire the police officers. If you are talking about true community policing, then citizens must be involved.

The second thing is that cops need to live in the community where they work. Presently there are approximately 750 officers in the RPD and 93 percent of them live outside the city. So, they come in not as guardians or servant protectors but as warrior occupiers.

The third thing is the issue of training. Cops must be trained in de-escalation and officers do not need to be responding to mental health calls. Also, we need them to undergo racial justice educational training.

Right now, they are only four to five hours of discrimination training with those three things all lumped into one that include sexual harassment, implicit bias and cultural diversity training. We want to get rid of the cultural diversity training. We want to say that they need to be racial justice educational training, which should be 60 hours every year. That needs to be mandated. One of our main problems is that police officers have this blue code of silence in which they protect their fellow officers who do wrong. This must change!

And one other thing is qualified immunity.

Presently, you cannot sue a cop for wrongful death, you got to sue the municipality. If we were able to sue the cop alone based upon what they do in terms of their misconduct, we will stop this nonsense they perpetrate. And that has to be changed in the state legislator and it is one of the things we are working on.

Last but not the least. We are not for defunding the police. We are not for abolishing the police, but we are for reallocation of resources. Those resources are going directly back into the police, so that we can have a better trained police force which recognizes the humanity of all people and a police department that is non racist and that is not quick to kill people or punish people or beat people up and that they will be duly punished if they do so.

Southwest Tribune: Let’s revisit your take on qualified immunity. So, you are saying, the taxpayers are paying the officers salary while being investigated and the taxpayers are also paying for the crime or misconduct the officer has unlawfully committed on the job, if found guilty?

Rev. Stewart:

There you go. Absolutely yes. The taxpayers are paying for the crime. It is coming out of your pocket and coming out of my pocket. So, when a civil judgement is made by a person who has been beat up by the police and for example is awarded $200,000. That is coming out of the taxpayer’s pockets. So, what we are saying is let us be able to sue the police officer personally and then this type of barbarity and inhumanity will stop.

Southwest Tribune: what is your assessment of the press conference held by the police officers, its union and attorneys regarding the techniques used the night Daniel Prude was fatally injured in their custody?

Rev. Stewart:

I thought it was atrocious. The attorneys were there, and they gave misleading and fallacious information about what took place. Number one, they indicated that this whole segmented procedure was something the police did. They showed it on television how one cop was over this other guy, who was a cop lying Prude on his stomach and this other cop was standing above him but had his hand pressed down to his head. That is not what happened to Daniel Prude. In reality, the cop had his knee pressed into Daniel Prude’s back as the other cop was twisting the spit bag around his head and neck suffocating him.

Secondly, how did they know that Prude had ingested PCP? But felt comfortable to use that answer as the reason why they did not give him a blanket, with them saying they feared he would go into a state of hypothermia. No one took his temperature. The whole argument rests on a lie. And that is all it is. A bold face racist lie.

Southwest Tribune: What do you make of the ‘smoking gun’ released in the booking records that directs the processing officer to scratch out Prude’s name on the booking sheet where he was initially booked as a victim and to then reclassify Prude as a suspect?

Rev. Stewart:

That is a part of the cover-up. They said let’s make him a suspect. Daniel Prude did not have a warrant out for him. He was not a criminal. He was an innocent man suffering from mental illness caught up in treachery and racism and he ended up forfeiting his life. And that is wrong and why justice must come out. And these attorneys will stand up there and defend these murders that need to be brought to justice. We are calling for these cops to be fired and not on our administrative leave with pay. But this is how they devalue our lives and treat Black lives inhumanely.

If you are interested in social justice and would like to become a member of the UCLM. Contact the UCLM at the email below:
[email protected]

The United Christian Leadership Ministry (UCLM)

It is not a congregation. The UCLM of Western, NY is an organization composed of various other faith institutions who have come together for the sole purpose of Black liberation and social justice.

The organization that preceded The UCLM in scope in what it is doing relative to police conflict was The United Church Ministry. The United Church Ministry came into existence in 1972. They had various presidents with the last president being the most esteemed, the late Rev. Raymond Graves, pastor of New Bethel C.M.E. Church.

Article by: Author and Journalist Rodney Brown, executive director of Brown Publishing LLC and Southwest Tribune Newspaper
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