LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — Congregants in African-American churches across the country wore black to Sunday services and prayed over the men in attendance in a symbolic stand against fatal police shootings of unarmed black men.
Men at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles stood more than four rows deep around the altar for a special blessing and message from the pastor, Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake.
“Police forces are charged with protecting all our citizens,” said Blake, leader of the national Church of God in Christ, the largest black Pentecostal group in the U.S. “In a very special way, they are to abide by the laws they are called to enforce. They should not bring fear to our citizens, but rather confidence.”
In South L.A., the family of Ezell Ford attended services at First African Methodist Episcopal Church in honor of what many are calling “Black Solidarity Sunday” or “Black Lives Matter Sunday.” Ford, 25, was a mentally-challenged man shot and killed on Aug. 11 by two LAPD officers in Florence. Police say Ford grabbed at one of their guns.
All Saints Church clergy and parishioners in Pasadena joined together for a peaceful protest against police brutality, ending their march in a vigil on the steps of Pasadena City Hall.
KNX1070’s Claudia Peschiutta reports that the family of Kendrec McDade, a 19-year-old man shot and killed by Pasadena police in March 2012, attended the march, with pictures of McDade pinned to their clothing. Officers who shot McDade were responding to a report of an armed robbery. The caller later admitted he’d lied about being robbed at gunpoint.
Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez went up to McDade’s mother, Anya Slaughter, and spoke to her briefly at the vigil.
“He said that he was sorry for what happened to my son,” Slaughter said. “I really appreciate that now they’re admitting their fault and admitting that it was a tragic incident.”
Sanchez had a different take on the exchange.
“I’m sorry for the tragedy, there’s no doubt about that. At the end of the day, the truth of the matter is Kendrec is dead. Now there were judicial reviews that exonerated the officers but none of that really brings Kendrec back,” he said.
“As a father, as a parent, I do feel sorry for her. I do feel sorry for the circumstances. It’s changed her life, it’s changed my life, it’s changed the lives of the officers.”
Slaughter thanked Sanchez.
“No, it doesn’t change anything. It’s not gonna bring Kendrec back but it lets me see that they do have a heart,” Slaughter said later.
Churches around the country took part in Sunday’s events. In Dallas, Bishop T.D. Jakes told worshippers at The Potter’s House Church that black men should not be “tried on the sidewalk.” At Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, Maryland, choir members sang “We Shall Overcome” for worshippers wearing T-shirts that read “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe.”
The churches were responding to a call from several historically African-American denominations for a Black Lives Matter campaign, in response to the recent police slayings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York. The church actions came a day after marches and demonstrations by civil rights and other groups around the country, including ones in Hollywood and Downtown L.A., pressing for changes to the criminal justice system.
“It is a time to hear God calling us to be relevant and responsive to the needs of people with us and around us,” wrote Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, an organizer of Sunday’s church action.
At morning services, the Rev. Lee P. Washington, pastor at Reid Temple AME Church in Glenn Dale, Maryland, called black clothing “serious dress for serious times.” He said those who contend that the black men who were killed by officers “deserve what they got” for disobeying police, or whose deaths were nothing more than an “unfortunate tragedy,” should think about the impact of the deaths on grieving families.
“In our minds, black lives do matter,” Washington said.
Several pastors sought blessings for law enforcement officials and noted many do their jobs with integrity, but they said officers guilty of wrongdoing should be held accountable. Bates Memorial Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, tweeted a photo of a pastor and congregants clutching their own necks to protest the chokehold death of Garner by New York City police during his July arrest for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
“We have to just come together and do our part,” said Darrell Ward at services at First AME Church: Bethel, a New York congregation that participated in “Black Lives Matter” Sunday.
Some predominantly white churches also participated in their own congregations. The Rev. George O. Wood, head of the Assemblies of God, a major Pentecostal denomination whose U.S. churches are mostly white, asked churchgoers to take part regardless of whether they agreed with the grand juries that exonerated the officers in the Brown and Garner cases.
“Whatever your opinion of those controversial decisions, can we stand with our brothers and sisters and affirm the value of black lives generally and of their lives specifically?” Wood wrote in his request to Assemblies of God members. “If Spirit-filled Christians cannot find a way to work together to heal these divisions, what hope is there for the rest of the country?”
(TM and ©Copyright 2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)