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Walsh, police officials join activists in prayer service

Roxbury gathering follows protests, NYC officer deaths

Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans, Superintendent William Gross joined hands with Orianna Wurie of Cambridge and Renee Omolade of Dorchester.
Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans, Superintendent William Gross joined hands with Orianna Wurie of Cambridge and Renee Omolade of Dorchester.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Mayor Martin J. Walsh joined uniformed law enforcement officials, community activists, and clergy on Monday night in Roxbury at a prayer service dedicated to justice and healing, following the recent slayings of two New York City police officers and nationwide protests over grand jury decisions in New York and Ferguson, Mo., that cleared white officers in the deaths of unarmed black men.

"Today, we've got to do everything that we can to [prevent] something bad from happening tomorrow," Walsh told the gathering of about 60 people at Twelfth Baptist Church on Warren Street.

The service followed the funeral on Saturday in Queens, N.Y., for Rafael Ramos, a New York police officer who was fatally shot along with his partner, Wenjian Liu, as they sat in their patrol car in Brooklyn. The gunman, who later killed himself, had earlier posted antipolice messages on social media.

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The attack had followed weeks of protests, in Boston and elsewhere, over grand jury decisions in Ferguson and New York that resulted in no charges being filed against officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate pastor of Twelfth Baptist Church, said during Monday night's service that "in light of what happened recently, I thought it was important to bring everyone together."

Those in attendance did not discuss police policy proposals at the service. But with heads bowed, they prayed for Boston officers as well as activists, some of whom have organized street demonstrations on behalf of Brown and Garner, often under the rallying cry "Black Lives Matter."

"All lives matter," said the Rev. William Dickerson, pastor of the Greater Love Tabernacle Church in Dorchester during one of the many solemn prayers for unity.

He asked that Boston residents not forget "our ugly past" in the realm of race relations and prayed that the city would "lead in righteousness."

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"Let us lead in justice and equality," he added.

The service included singing and the laying of hands by clergy on members of the Boston police command staff and on several young community activists.

The Rev. Richard "Doc" Conway of St. Peter's parish in Dorchester led a prayer for the assembled police officers, including Commissioner William B. Evans and his second-in-command, Superintendent-in-Chief William G. Gross.

Conway praised city police officers for their personal sacrifices and efforts to help local youth.

"They protect us in so many ways," Conway said. "Please give them the respect they deserve from the people of the city of Boston."

The Rev. Liz Walker of Roxbury Presbyterian Church followed Conway with a prayer for the community activists.

"We thank you for their passion," she said. "We thank you for their courage and [willingness] to speak out for justice."

None of the police officials or activists spoke during the prayer service, but one advocate, Shaun Leonard, 28, of Jamaica Plain, told reporters afterward that demonstrators are concerned over racial issues but also economic inequity.

"It's much bigger than race," Leonard said.

Walsh had sounded a similar note, telling the crowd that his administration was working to expand educational opportunities in the city's poorest neighborhoods.

He cited the student protests at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School last fall when class schedules were not ready at the start of the academic year. After some changes, Walsh said, the school is now "on track to be successful."

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"It shows you the power of the young peoples' voice by speaking out," he said.

Meanwhile, activists have announced their intention to protest killings by police by staging a die-in, in which demonstrators plan to lay on the ground, outside the Boston Public Library in Copley Square during the city's annual First Night activities.

In addition to the protests in Boston over the grand jury rulings in the Brown and Garner cases, propolice demonstrations have been held recently in West Roxbury and South Boston in the aftermath of the killings of Ramos and Liu.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @taglobe.