A Seventh-day Adventist Church in New York hosted a service of hope and healing in an effort to quell tensions brought on by weeks of unrest between police and civil rights groups stemming from the deaths of a citizen and two police officers.
Tying in with celebrations to commemorate the legacy of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., the Hope and Healing for Better Police and Community Relations program featured Church leaders, city leaders, police officials and congressional representatives.
The program, held January 18 at the Flatbush Adventist Church in Brooklyn, included prayers for city officials, protection for the more than 35,000 city police officers patrolling the streets, and God’s healing to ease the hurt and suspicion rampant in the community.
Tensions have flared in New York and nationwide resulting from police incidents late last year. In New York, citizen Eric Garner died in July as the result of a chokehold from a police officer. A county grand jury on December 3 decided not to indict the officer. On December 20, two police officers were assassinated by a man claiming retaliation. Both events sparked protests, rallies and extensive national media coverage.
At Sunday’s program, co-sponsored by the Adventist Church’s Greater New York and Northeastern conferences, Adventist Church leaders appealed to all groups for calm, understanding and healing.
“Over the past few weeks, the city has been roiled by tension,” said Northeastern Conference President Daniel Honoré. “We still mourn the loss of Eric Garner. We still mourn the loss of [officers Wenjian] Liu and [Rafael] Ramos. Society however has presented us with a false choice. It has told us, ‘Either you support community rights, or you support the police.’ Today I want to categorically reject that choice.”
Greater New York President G. Earl Knight said that in light of the recent events dividing the city, “as a faith community, we cannot sit in idleness, twiddling our thumbs in despair. We are a people of hope, not despair . . . We believe that God can heal the brokenhearted; He can heal our broken relationships.”
U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke, of New York’s 9th Congressional District, commended the denomination for coordinating the “timely gathering for dialogue and discussion.” She added, “You have decided that church takes place seven days a week. From that understanding of the gospel, we can transform life in real-time. Not only in the spiritual realm, but indeed we can make a change in the secular realm.”
Remarks also came from other official guests, including New York City Public Advocate Letitia James; U.S. Congressional Representative Hakeem Jeffries of the 8th Congressional District; Harold Miller of the Community Affairs Unit representing Mayor Bill de Blasio; and New York Police Department First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker.
Many in attendance were youth and young adults. In another cooperative effort, Youth Ministries directors from both conferences, Andres Peralta (Greater New York) and Roger Wade (Northeastern), presented the audience with cards containing information about how one should respond when stopped by the police, as well as information about citizens’ rights and responsibilities.
“Prayer is not the only thing we can do,” Wade said.
Greater New York Conference Communication Director Rohann Wellington moderated a panel discussion. Invited elected officials and NYPD 1st Deputy Commissioner were joined by the president of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council, Gilford Monrose; and Greater New York and Northeastern conference pastors, Shane Vidal and Allen Martin to field questions from Wellington and the audience.
When asked what steps need to be taken to bridge the divide as a result of recent events, Monrose cited examples of clergy activism during the Civil Rights era in the 1960s and 70s. “Members of the clergy have a specific role to pray, but we also have to put our feet to our faith. . . We have to do work and be that liaison between the police and our communities.” Monrose added that while anger and frustration are inevitable, clergy can be that “voice in the middle” to maintain the flow of communication on both sides.
Martin pointed out the more reactive approach that communities have had and shared his experience while visiting Ferguson, Missouri, after the shooting of Michael Brown. Emphasizing the need for public engagement before tragedies happen in the community, Martin said, “We have elected officials on the podium, but elected officials represent us. . . Our responsibility is to hold our officials accountable.
Martin added, “We can’t sit back and let things just go and not raise our voice of concern. And we can’t wait for there to be a shooting, or there to be some tragedy, to be engaged.”
Pastor Shane Vidal called for a new paradigm of policing that would enable police officers to focus not on how many arrests are made, but on how many lives they can transform by their daily encounters.
Recommendations from the panel discussion will be prepared and presented to the office of the Mayor of New York City.
Sunday’s program also included worship and a press conference. One poignant moment during the service came when the audience—comprised of a variety of races and ethnicities—collectively rose to their feet and enthusiastically applauded eight-year-old Nathanel McKenzie after his recitation of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Closing remarks were presented by Abraham Jules, pastor of the Community Worship Center Adventist Church. Using Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan, Jules reminded the audience that those who have been wounded often have a greater capacity to become healers.
Future plans are being made to build upon relations formed from this event and to provide a continued proactive presence in the neighborhoods affected by these tragedies.