The Crusader Newspaper Group

We shall overcome or mourn?

By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader

The “amens” and “hallelujahs” could be heard a block away. With emotions running high, it was time to call for some help. As questions swirled, it was also time to ask for divine guidance and strength.

On July 19, dozens of Black pastors in Chicago joined a diverse group of leaders at the Chicago Police headquarters to step up calls for police reforms at a time when the nation is shaken by the recent shootings of police officers in Baton Rouge, LA and Dallas, TX.

Since the shootings, Chicago police ordered officers to work in pairs. While law enforcement officials say there is no threat to the department, police remain on edge.

Meanwhile, funerals of slain police officers continue. While American flags fly half-staff, many Blacks—young and old—faced hard questions: Should we shed a tear or throw up another placard? Does calling for justice for the deaths of Black civilians mean that one is anti-police? Shall we overcome or mourn for now?

For men and women of the clergy, the questions are a delicate issue in a nation that has been fraught with rising racial tensions because of the killings of Blacks by police officers in various cities.

PASTOR IRA ACREE of Greater St John Bible Church, addresses the media during a press conference outside Chicago Police headquarters on July 19
PASTOR IRA ACREE of Greater St John Bible Church, addresses the media during a press conference outside Chicago Police headquarters on July 19

Chicago’s Black leaders, organizations and activists across the country are speaking out against the killings while being accused of stirring anti-police sentiment. Opponents believe the police shootings were in response to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile—two Black men who were killed by officers within two days in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, respectively. The incidents sparked protests around the country, including Chicago, where activists demonstrated in various parts of the city, including near President’s Barack Obama’s house in Hyde Park.

While Obama condemned the killings of the police officers, the president has come under heavy criticism in the Black community for not giving equal attention to the deaths of Sterling and Castile. It’s a complicated issue that has further divided a nation where past similar incidents have left citizens and leaders torn between supporting police officers or civilians—whose killers are protected by a code of silence—and a justice system that many believe is broken.

With distrust still simmering from the brutal killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, the Chicago Police department is struggling to gain the support of the city, particularly the Black community. At the press conference on Wednesday, Pastor Ira Acree was cautious in calling for police reforms while expressing sympathy for the killing of police officers.

“We are pro-choice,”Acree said. “We are not anti-police. Although we support the police, we cannot forget what got us to this point.”

Acree was one of 50 pastors from various faiths who expressed their disappointment about reforms that have yet to be implemented in the Chicago Police department.

After the press conference at the Chicago Police headquarters, they walked into the building and delivered a letter which included a 15-point reform plan that they want Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson to implement. The recommendations were in addition to several reforms the department is in the process of making after a video was released showing Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times in 2014.

Rev. Marshall Hatch, chairman of the Leader’s Network and Pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Church, said the police department is moving too slow to implement reforms recommended by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Police Accountability Task Force. He said he is disappointed that the Independent Police Review Authority still exists and has yet to be replaced by a civilian review panel.

Two weeks ago, the police oversight plan was placed on hold for the second time after organizations and residents voiced concern that the mayor did not seek enough community input before moving forward with the plan to replace IPRA. The delays and frustrations in implementing new reforms have made it difficult for many leaders to sympathize with the police department.

“We support the police, but we must also hold police officers accountable for their actions,” Hatch said. “There’s no real independent agency to investigate police misconduct. That cannot stand.”

Meanwhile, Obama has turned down a national petition to label the Black Lives Matter movement a terrorist organization. On the White House website, the president said, “We shouldn’t get too caught up in this notion that somehow people who are asking for fair treatment are somehow, automatically, anti-police; are trying to only look out for Black lives as opposed to others. I think we have to be careful about playing that game, just because that’s not obviously what is intended.”

Both suspects who killed police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge are Black men who served in the military. On July 17, 28-year-old Gavin Long, a former Marine from Kansas City, MO, shot six officers, killing three of them.

Highly-skilled and well-equipped, police say Long used an IWI Tavor SAR 5.56 rifle with a strap on it to maintain accuracy. He also was armed with a 9mm pistol and a Stag Arms M4 variant 5.56 rifle. Long was later killed by a member of Baton Rouge’s SWAT team.

The shootings occurred as the nation was still mourning the deaths of five law enforcement officers in Dallas. They were killed after being ambushed by Micah Xavier Johnson, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan.

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