A coalition of Latino pastors gathered at a Baptist church in Newark on Friday and called on congregations across the nation to speak out against President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, claiming it feeds acts of violence, like the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.
They also demanded that the U.S. Senate vote on gun-control measures contained in a bill already approved by the Democrat-controlled House.
“Words, my friends, are not enough,” said Bishop Joshua Rodriguez, vice president of the NJ Coalition of Latino Pastors and Ministers. “We need action, we need legislation that protects our rights.”
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez was among the officials on hand who also spoke. Dramatically, he rapped on the church pulpit to demonstrate how quickly the Dayton shooter massacred nine people, using an automatic weapon and a 100-bullet drum-shaped magazine.
“Thirty seconds,” he said. “Think about that.”
“I’m sick and tired of hearing that gun-safety laws don’t work because they are literally working in every other industrialized society,” Menendez (D-NJ) said.
Joining Menendez was state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) whose districts sits within the city.
“This entire country has to step up,” she said. “This was a targeted crime, on people who look like us, who sound like us, who breathe like us.”
The first lady of the state, Tammy Murphy, also spoke.
“If we don’t want what happened in El Paso to happen in Paterson, then we have to do something new,” she said.
The coalition of 325 Latino pastors and ministers represents 32,000 parishioners in the state. Its leaders said many in their community are afraid.
“You feel the tension that’s going around, that people are not safe anywhere,” said Rev. Candido Perez, pastor at La Gloria de la Altisimo Church in Union City. “We see the school shootings; we see shootings in the churches. So where are people going to go to? They just don’t want to go out. They stay home.”
Polls show an overwhelming percentage of Americans support background checks for gun purchasers. But the House measure, which would establish stricter checks, has stalled in the Senate, with Congress in recess until Sept. 9.
Amid a political backlash in the wake of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, both Trump and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated a willingness to act on some sort of measure — despite fierce opposition from the National Rifle Association.
“We’re going to have these bipartisan discussions, and when we get back, hopefully be able to come together and actually pass something,” McConnell said Thursday during a radio interview broadcast in Louisville, KY. “I want to make a law and not just see this political sparring going on endlessly, which never produces a result.”
“I think a lot of really meaningful things on background checks will take place, including red flags, including a lot of other very important items,” Trump said Friday. “The Republicans are looking at it very seriously, and I really believe that the NRA — I’ve spoken to them numerous times — they’re really good people. And frankly, I really think they’re going to get there, also.”
Menendez took issue with Trump’s statement during his comments in Newark.
“When the president says we have to consider the NRA, well the NRA is not the American people,” he said.
During his remarks, Rodriguez talked about the reason for convening Friday’s gathering.
“We’re here to stand against hate,” he said. “Because fear and hate can cause people to do stupid and crazy things. It tends to motivate people to embrace tribalism and fundamentalism — which leads to polarization — which is, unfortunately, what we’re seeing in our country,” he said.