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Dallas Residents Look to Church for Comfort, Reconciliation Following Police Deaths, Racial Tension

( [email protected] ) Jul 11, 2016 01:05 PM EDT
Amid the shooting deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and five police officers who were gunned down during a Black Lives Matter protest on Thursday night, residents of Dallas, TX are looking to the Church for hope, comfort, and unity.
The service at Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas on Sunday focused on prayers for the two black men and the police officers killed last week.
CreditIlana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Amid the shooting deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and five police officers who were gunned down during a Black Lives Matter protest on Thursday night, residents of Dallas, TX are looking to the Church for hope, comfort, and unity.

On Sunday, thousands gathered in churches across the city to pray after Micah Johnson, 25, opened fire on police officers who were accompanying marchers protesting policing practices following the shooting deaths of several black men.

Johnson, who had been in the Army Reserve, used a rifle to fire from a parking garage and while on foot on the streets below, killing five police officers. Authorities reportedly said Johnson was angry about recent shootings by police and "wanted to kill white people."

"The question isn't, 'Who is our neighbor?' The question is, 'Who isn't?' " the Rev. Joseph J. Clifford told his congregation on Sunday, which included Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings (D), at the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, according to the New York Times. "There is so much that keeps us from loving one another - race, class, ethnicity, nationality, even religion."

Clifford urged listeners to refuse to give in to fear, and embrace those who are different or unfamiliar.

"It is hard to love one another when we do not know each other. When we rarely see each other. When our lives are so separated and segregated," he said. "If our lives are lived only with people who are like us - people who look like us, people who act like us . . . then how can we love those who are not like us?"

At the Potter's House megachurch southwest of downtown, Bishop T.D. Jakes prayed for healing and called for the Church to unite in the face of injustice.

"Heal our land," Jakes prayed, according to the Star Telegram. "From the White House to the crack house, heal our land."

In a town hall-style panel that lasted for about two hours, Jakes talked to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, two Dallas police officers and the family members of Castile and Sterling, among others. He prayed that God would "let justice prevail" and urged prayers for the Dallas police department.

"This was a peaceful demonstration that turned horribly tragic. These officers gave their lives protecting not just black people but white people, Latinos, people of all races. Let's praise God for these officers," Jakes said as people in the 10,000-seat, capacity-filled sanctuary applauded.

The pastor said that many individuals, not just African Americans but all races, are angry, and expressing that in negative and violent ways.

"We're seeing it in real-time speed on social media, passing from community to community and 24-hour news cycles of constantly being inundated with images of bloody shirts and screaming children," he said. "It is extremely traumatic. And until leadership of all colors sits down at the table and comes out of denial and says we have a problem, justice will wrongfully fall into the hands of those who are not mature enough nor stable enough to act in the stead of people who are able to but won't act."

Jakes added that elected officials must focus on fixing issues of civil justice, as neither they nor the black community can just wait for another Martin Luther King Jr. to come along.

"Dr. King was masterful in that moment, critical at that time. But if there is not another Dr. King, that does not mean we cannot move our agenda forward," the preacher said, according to the Washington Post. "You cannot think of one person who became a Dr. King for the LGBT community. And look at how much they changed the world. We are the people we've been waiting for. All of us have to do our part to get it done."

Meanwhile, on Thursday, an interfaith service drew thousands of people who lined up to show their appreciation for the city's men and women in blue. The Atlanta Journal Constitution notes that following the service, which featured remarks from faith and civic leaders, musical tributes and prayers, attendees thanked officers, and soon everyone began hugging.

"It's overwhelming," said Senior Cpl. Monica Cordova. "We were overwhelmed with grief. Now we're overwhelmed with gratitude."

Another interfaith service is scheduled for Tuesday in Dallas, during which President Obama will address the city.