The Rev. Henry P. Davis, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Highland Park, has been focused on ministering to his flock and building a new multimillion-dollar sanctuary that will open next month.
But after watching recent news reports about the fatal police shootings of Black men in Charlotte and Tulsa, combined with other police shootings over the past year, Davis said he feels compelled to speak up and get involved.
“We are not condemning the police but we have a small segment who are on the wrong side of justice,” said Davis, who plans to convene a prayer vigil outside of his Landover, Maryland church.
“There is an imbalance in this country in terms of racial issues,” said Davis, echoing the sentiments recently shared by leaders of the National Newspaper Publishers Association [NNPA] who declared a “police brutality state of emergency in the U.S.” during a press conference held in Northwest on Friday, Sept. 23.
The decision to call for action, initiated by the NNPA, occurred in response to the fatal police shootings of three Black males including a 13-year-old boy in Columbus, Ohio, Tyre King – shot and killed on Sept. 14 after officers mistakenly believed he had a firearm. They later realized that he actually had pulled out a toy BB gun upon their initial approach.
The Rev. Cheryl Sanders, pastor of the Third Street Church of God in Northwest, said continuing with business as usual can no longer be tolerated.
“We need to have conversations between the police, citizens and religious leaders. We need the Attorney General to step up. “I’m not criticizing her but she’s a key person in this matter who has the power to get some of these ideas on the table so that we can move toward a solution. She’s in charge of the Justice Department.”
On Sept. 16, a Tulsa police officer, Betty Shelby, fatally shot Terence Crutcher after his truck broke down on the road. In a video captured by the Tulsa Police Department, Crutcher walked back to his truck with his arms raised just before being shot. Shelby has since been charged with felony manslaughter.
And on Tuesday, Sept. 20, police in Charlotte, shot and killed 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott at an apartment building. Witnesses said Scott had been sitting in his car reading a book when plainclothes officers approached him.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., president and CEO of the NNPA, said the three shootings “are not isolated incidents but rather illustrate a deadly national pattern of police violence and prosecutorial misconduct.”
While some religious leaders don’t totally disagree with the views of the NNPA, several said they believe real change will only come when officers in local departments make up their minds to change – not due to receiving federally-issued mandates.
“It has been a state of emergency all of my 64 years,” said the Rev. Grainger Browning, pastor of the Ebenezer A.M.E. Church in Fort Washington. “The biggest difference will come when the police start policing themselves and start turning in these dissident officers who have brought shame upon their profession.”
Finally, the Rev. Unnia Pettus, founder of the District-based Nobody But God Outreach ministries, said, “I think the call of a state of emergency is well-intentioned it is not enough unless clergy leaders, community activists, the police and prosecutors are all at the table.”
“The church can do three things: reach, teach and preach. We need to reach people on both sides of this issue, find out what they want and get to the root causes of the pain. We rely too much on government resources to solve problems in the local community,” she said.