Search PNC News for stories of people and churches in our UCC Conference:

Group overturns table to challenge racial incarceration rate

On Monday of Holy Week, Jesus turned over the tables of the money changes in the temple. His act of righteous anger put attention on the economic exploitation of the poor in the context of the Roman Empire.

Lauren Cannon

Lauren Cannon reads Scripture about Jesus turning over the tables of moneychangers in the temple. Photo courtesy of Alex Garland

Inspired by this gospel story, the Rev. John Helmiere of Valley and Mountain Fellowship, an emerging church in South Seattle, launched the “Turning Tables Monday” campaign in 2010.

Intended to increase participation in faith-based efforts for economic justice, confront institutional wrongdoing and foster institutional repentance, past actions focused on issues such as divestment from fossil fuels and reinvestment in clean energy, and closing bank accounts at “big banks” in favor of credit unions.

For 2015, Seattle anti-racism organizers planned a series of events throughout the Lenten season, centered on the issue of mass incarceration and racial disproportionality in the King County Juvenile Detention system, culminating in an action on Monday, March 30.


Protesters put coins and cards with messages on a table that is to be overturned. Photo courtesy of Alex Garland

The Lenten Series included a Teach-In about the New Youth Jail being built in King County, a morning study and conversation about the Scripture, a Lenten devotional and resources for churches to integrate the preparation into worship.

Jenn Hagedorn, social justice liaison with Plymouth Congregational UCC in Seattle, is one of the leaders in this organizing work among communities of faith, along with members of a group called European Dissent.

European Dissent is a white, anti-racist group that works under the same organizing principles of The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. European Dissent follows the leadership of Youth Undoing Intuitional Racism (YUIC) and Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC), multi-generational, youth of color-led collectives committed to dismantling systemic racism.

Jenn, who grew up in Northshore UCC, served as a Young Adult Service Community Justice Leadership Intern in 2013, working with Plymouth Church and the Church Council of Greater Seattle. She is also completing a graduate degree at the University of Washington School of Public Health.

Using networks within local congregations as a catalyst, Jenn said she is “excited to explore how predominantly white churches can authentically engage in an anti-racism movement in King County.

“As Christians, we are called to challenge systems of oppression that have become normalized,” she said. “While 8 percent of the King County population is black, more than 50 percent of those in the juvenile detention center are black youth. This isn’t right, but it has become normalized.  If white youth were being locked up at those rates, we as a county wouldn’t stand for it.”

In fact, Jenn explained, this is what happened. Over the last decade, King County has reduced its average daily bed count from almost 200 youth to between 40 to 60 youth per night. This was done by creating programs that diverted youth away from detention and into programs like drug counseling.

These programs worked better for white youth than youth of color, so while the overall jail population has gone down, disproportionality has dramatically increased.

“This is the result of programs that lack an anti-racist lens,” Jenn explained.  “Without that, programs will always work better for white youth than youth of color.”

On March 30, 70 people of faith gathered outside the offices of Howard S. Wright, the company that has been granted a $154 million contract to build the new Children and Family Justice Center.

This group stood in solidarity with EPIC and YUIR in opposition to building a new youth jail for King County.

The crowd made its way up to the offices of Howard S. Wright, where an executive came out to meet them and ask what was happening.

The Rev. Brandon Duran, youth and young adult pastor at Plymouth UCC in Seattle, delivered the letter, which said, “We see bidding for a contract to build the new youth jail as a moral choice on the part of Howard S. Wright. Building the youth jail is participating in and financially benefiting from an unjust and broken system in such a way that legitimizes the system and perpetuates the damage done.   You are making money off of the suffering of communities of color.”

The letter also held up the contradictions between the company’s own creed, to “do nothing less than Zero Harm for anyone who comes in contact with our work,” with their building a jail that causes pain and trauma to children and their communities.

The letter called on the company to put their contract with King County on hold until King County agrees to listen to EPIC and YUIR in a way “that ensures accountability to those communities most impacted and includes authentic collaboration on the alternative vision of juvenile justice coming out of EPIC and YUIR.”

The group then set up a table and held an offering of coins and cards that had been written based on discussions during the weeks leading up to the event.

The Rev. Lauren Cannon, a pastor at Keystone UCC, led the offering, read the Scripture and invited the group into a place of prayer.

The Rev. Mike Denton, Pacific Northwest UCC conference minister, said the group came to this event as a confessional action, because of their own complacency in unjust systems as institutional church.

The Rev. Rick Derkson, Mennonite pastor, with his two-year-old granddaughter standing next to him, talked about the community he wants his granddaughter to grown up in.  He wants it to be a community that cares for all its children rather than caging them.

Finally, the Rev. Mark Zimmerly, pastor of Madrona Grace Presbyterian Church in Seattle, invited the group to lay their hands on the table or the shoulder of someone near them, pray and collectively flip the table.

As the table landed on the ground, cards and coins scattering, and there was a moment of deep silence.

Systemic racism is a deeply rooted problem that requires long-term organizing, said Jenn.

The group looks forward to continuing to develop relationships with each other and with the anti-racist organizers of YUIR and EPIC.

They are discussing next steps and looking towards Pentecost for their next event of witness and action.

For information, call 206-622-4865, email, or visit


Copyright © April 2015 - Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ Conference News


Share this article on your favorite social media Bookmark and Share