By Barney Blakeney
Special to the NNPA from The Charleston Chronicle
Dylann Storm Roof on June 17 walked into Emanuel AME Church through a side door without facing any resistance or questions. He sat with members of the congregation about an hour as they conducted a weekly Bible study session then pulled out a .45 Caliber handgun and shot nine of the members to death. That tragic incident leaves the community in shock and some asking if better security could have prevented the crime.
Houses of worship are among the most accessible places in the community when activities of various types are being conducted. Doors are unlocked to allow participants to enter during evening meetings, practices and other activities. And during activities such as Bible study, all including strangers such as Roof, are welcome without question. The Godly then are at a disadvantage to those whose intentions may be devious.
This week as Charleston remains in a state of shock after the premeditated murder of nine participants in the Bible study session at Mother Emanuel, many local church congregations held conversations about security in the wake of the carnage.
Saturday while the men of St. Matthews Baptist Church in North Charleston enjoyed a meal of fresh fish during a Father’s Day program, church leaders met to discuss security going forward after the deaths at Emanuel. Later that evening the pastors of several Charleston area churches were asked about security at their houses of worship.
Charity Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Nelson Rivers, a former national NAACP field operations vice president and current religious affairs and operations director for the National Action Network said public discussion of security measures for any facility is counterproductive, but he offered that security cameras, locked doors and entry buzzers are among the equipment churches should consider standard in their security systems.
Location also should be considered, Rivers said. Emanuel, one of the city’s most historic edifices, is located in Charleston’s historic district. And because churches are places where all are welcome, that location makes it and several other downtown churches vulnerable to insidious attacks.
One member of Emanuel suggested that someone in the church have in their possession a firearm any time the church is open. Mt. Zion AME Church Pastor Rev. John Paul Brown rejected the suggestion saying the church is no place for firearms. Sam Jenkins, security advisor at Wesley United Methodist Church in Charleston said instead, cameras at all entrances are necessary. At some point people just have to trust God, he said.
Brown said in addition, parishioners always should trust their common sense. That means locking doors that don’t lead into areas where services are being conducted and he suggests consulting experts in security. “We want to take necessary precautions, but we don’t want to overreact,” he said.
Rev. Alonzo Washington Pastor of Wallingford Presbyterian Church in Charleston said his congregation had an open door policy before the tragedy at Emanuel and will continue that policy. But that doesn’t mean they won’t lock doors and maintain constant vigil and observation to detect anything or anyone suspicious. Christian faith will not be conquered by fear, he said.
Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis said patrol officers will increase their vigil as well. They can be expected to knock on doors when they think someone may be in churches at various hours beyond those of normal worship service. As always, if anyone feels uncomfortable about any situation at a church, he encourages them to call police. Having members carry firearms in churches is a question individual churches must decide, Francis said.