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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, June 5, 2020

Being part of the solution


Clergy, police come together as city, nation confront killing



Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy was standing in the middle of a crowd on Frazier Avenue during the third night of protests in the city when a young man asked him what he was doing to bring about change.

Roddy did not offer a laundry list of legislation, policy changes or cultural shifts to soothe the anger protesters in Chattanooga and around the country are expressing in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

Instead, Roddy explained to the young man that he should not look to leaders to make those changes on their own.

“I said, ‘Whatever it is you’re picturing – whatever expectations you have, whatever problems you want addressed – you have to be a part of that conversation,’” Roddy told a gathering of local faith leaders Monday night at Olivet Baptist Church. “Because if you leave it to me and people like me to create a solution, we won’t find it.”

The Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga invited the pastors, priests and rabbis to Olivet to contribute to the local conversation about the death of George Floyd and share their thoughts about the changes they believe need to take place nationally to prevent abuses of power.

As people packed Miller Plaza less than 1 mile away for a fourth night of protests, Bishop Kevin Adams of Olivet presided over the small gathering of about 20, which dotted the spacious sanctuary in the interest of social distancing.

Wearing a T-shirt with the phrase “I can’t breathe” – a political slogan taken from the death of Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer and echoed by protesters of police brutality across the U.S. – Bishop Kevin Adams of Olivet invited individual leaders to step up to a microphone at the front of the sanctuary and share their thoughts.

“Our young people are marching on the streets,” Adams said in his introduction. “I asked some of them, ‘Why are you marching?’ They said, ‘Because we want change.’ And I stood there and cried, ‘Lord, I pray they’re not battling issues You empowered us to take out in our day, but now our kids have to fight them in their day.’”

Pastor Jeffrey Wilson of New United Missionary Baptist Church quoted Dr. Martin Luther King to establish a context for the protests.

“Some of my neighbors have said they don’t understand what’s happening. I tell them what Martin Luther King wrote in his 1964 book, “Why We Can’t Wait:” ‘Lightning makes no sound until it strikes.’ What we’re seeing today is lightning striking across this nation. And it’s not going to stop.”

Wilson also summoned the words of the late Rev. Dr. William Augustus Jones, who said, “Don’t bring a flute when you need a trumpet.”

“One of the worst things you can do with an instrument is play it out of tune,” Wilson added. “We need to be in tune, friends. We need not just an economic message, or a political message, or a social justice message, but also a moral message. We need someone to stand and say, ‘What we see is wrong.’”

Dr. Shauna Wooten of Real Life Ministries reminded her fellow clergy that there are good people in law enforcement.

“I lost my son five months ago in a car accident,” she recalled. “Those officers tried to save him; they performed CPR on him.”

She continued, comparing this generation’s fight against racism to David’s fight against Goliath in the Bible.

“We have to remember that Goliath had brothers. But David had properly prepared those who were standing with him, and they were able to defeat the brothers of Goliath. We need to raise up people who will do what is right when it comes to justice.”

Adams challenged Pastor Kevin Wallace of Redemption to the Nations to speak about what a faith leader can do when he or she perceives racism in his or her congregation. In response, Wallace opened up about his family’s history of white supremacist beliefs.

“I came from a long line of white supremacists. But when Jesus saved me, he made me love everybody,” he said, his bellowing voice filling the sanctuary.

“I’m concerned we preach a Jesus who likes us but not a Jesus who came to save the whole world. But if we preach the latter Jesus, why should it shock us when we look at our congregation and see red, yellow, black and white? Because if we preach Him right, it will call people of every color and from every walk of life.”

Michael Dzik, the executive director of the local Jewish Federation and the organizer of the event, agreed with Wallace and called for changes he said are long overdue.

“The murder of George Floyd has exposed a generation’s worth of racism in this country,” he said, his strong voice rivaling Wallace’s. “Like many of you, I feel helpless, and I’m frustrated and angry. How do we turn these feelings into hope?

“It’s time for laws to be passed and policies to be changed. Together, we can create a more loving and inclusive community.”

Rabbi Craig Lewis of Mizpah Congregation spoke more softly than Wallace and Dzik but was no less passionate as he added his thoughts to the conversation.

“The wheels of justice for George Floyd are turning slowly. These are the same wheels of justice that have failed for a long time,” he said. “Had they been sped up for any past injustice when black men and women were treated unfairly, and when they were met with unnecessary suspicion and excessive force, then policies would have been changed along with people’s attitudes, and maybe the streets across America would be quiet and we’d be at peace.”

As Lewis continued, he said people must understand “the blessing of diversity” before change can occur.

“Psalms 128 says your children will be like olive plants. The olives on a branch are not all the same. Some are used for making oil, others are best for eating, and others are best for being dried,” he said. “None of the olives are the same, but every one of them is valuable and each one has the potential for greatness.”

During Roddy’s turn at the microphone, he referenced a message he posted on Twitter May 27 that gained traction around the country.

In the tweet, he wrote, “There is no need to see more video. There no need to wait to see how this plays out. There is no need to put a knee on someone’s neck for NINE minutes. There IS a need to DO something. If you wear a badge and you don’t have an issue with ... [what happened to George Floyd], then turn it in.”

As of Monday night, Roddy’s tweet had received more than 5,000 replies and been liked by more than 641,000 users.

One of the replies suggested very few people who wear the badge share Roddy sentiment. Roddy told the gathering of faith leaders he disagrees.

“Since I made that statement, I have talked with countless members of our police department and friends across the country who are in law enforcement who said, “Thank you. You said what we believe.’”

Roddy continued, saying, “I’m looking forward to when we can sit down and talk, not stand across the street from one another, not scream at each other, not throw rocks at one another, and not do everything we can to push each other away from one another.”

Adams echoed Roddy’s remarks as he brought the evening to a close, saying, “I have a 5-year-old granddaughter. I’m determined that when her day comes, we’ll be able to hand her a better world – a world in which people walk together in harmony and love regardless of race, creed or color.”