Black religious leaders in Boston sought to evoke hope and unity Sunday after two black men were fatally shot by police in two US cities last week, followed by the retaliatory deaths of five Dallas police officers.
“This is not an ordinary Sunday, this has not been an ordinary week, and this is not ordinary for our country,” said the Rev. John Borders III at Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan. “And I refuse to believe that the violence that we’ve seen against the police and those who are victims of shootings by police will continue. Things have to change.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Attorney General Maura Healey, Police Commissioner William B. Evans, and more than a dozen Boston police officers attended the Sunday service, at which officials urged the community to band together after the recent violence.
“We have to continue to work together,” said Walsh, who asked for prayers for police and the victims. “Regardless of the situation of the person who has been killed, regardless of their record, regardless of their past, whether they were an altar boy or a saint or a sinner, we have to think beyond that. . . . We have to start thinking about the human being.”
The police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge on Tuesday and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., on Wednesday, captured on video and posted on social media, sent shock waves throughout the city and across a country still reeling from previous police-involved shootings.
Then on Thursday, a black Army reservist seeking retaliation shot five Dallas police officers to death during a Black Lives Matter protest against police brutality before he was killed by police.
Evans said the week had been challenging for law enforcement.
“Black lives do matter,” Evans said. “Blue lives do matter to us. But more importantly, all lives matter to us. We all have to be united, we all have to work together to make sure this city and this country are one.”
Borders prayed for the families of Sterling, Castile, and the Dallas officers, and for the Boston police officers in attendance. He invited congregants to the front of the church to hug the officers.
“It’s reasonable to watch the events that have taken place . . . [and] to be angry,” Borders said. “But some people have to decide that they do not have the luxury of being angry, that they have the responsibility to lead and love.”
Healey, who stood at the podium beside Walsh, Evans, and Borders, appeared to wipe a tear from her face. She thanked the officers before her for their service while adding that victims of police brutality deserve justice. Healey said there is still much work to be done to address issues of unconscious bias in policing, racial profiling, and national standards for use of force.
“I think about the calls for justice that have gone unanswered, the calls for sanity that have gone unanswered, the calls for peace that have gone unanswered, and into that vacuum of despair and helplessness has crept fear,” she said. “That is fear that is understandable, but it is not the solution. We need to see one another through the eyes of others and recognize that when one is hurting, we are all hurting.”
The message struck a chord with congregants, including some who sat in the pews dabbing tears from their eyes.
“This kind of issue shouldn’t happen,” said parishioner Joseph Akintayo, 51, of Mattapan. “We should all be equal.”
Flo Bouquet, 17, who attended a later service at the church, said she was disappointed to see yet another police-involved shooting but doubted much would change.
“This is the reality we live in,” she said. “It’s good [elected officials] are trying to speak about it, but I feel like the change we need to happen isn’t going to happen.”
Others took issue with the words of public officials.
“When people say all lives matter that’s true, but that’s not the focus right now,” said Jonathan Charles, 17, of Waltham. “Right now all lives aren’t being killed.”
Borders and elected officials also spoke about gun violence in the city’s neighborhoods and the need to get firearms off the streets.
“We’re going to tell every young brother and every young sister that violence is not the way and that we must stop killing ourselves,” he said.
In Roxbury at the Twelfth Baptist Church, the Rev. Willie Bodrick II led the congregation in a rousing sermon exploring what he said was a “systemic racist structure.”
“When we do not address the roots of racism, when we do not address the roots of violence, then we start to acknowledge that we are rotting at our core,” he said. “Conformity will force you into trying to make you choose between black lives matter, all lives matter, or even blue lives matter. The problem is that America has historically and presently depreciated the value of black life.”
Bodrick’s fiancee, Devin Cromartie, 25, said it was difficult for the two of them to deal with the events that transpired over the week and even harder for Bodrick to find the right words to say Sunday.
“This week, we’ve been under a lot of shock and anger and sadness,” Cromartie said. “But last night, he was able to sit, meditate on it, and found a Scripture. And it came to him.”
And his words were exactly what Art J. Gordon, 27, needed to hear.
Gordon, who recently obtained a master of divinity degree, said he struggled to deal with the events of last week.
“A lot of people from the faith communities are tired of praying because they feel like prayer’s not an answer,” Gordon said. “But I think the Scripture was right on point about saying that we can’t conform to being hopeless.”
Two miles away in Dorchester, the Rev. William E. Dickerson II, of the Greater Love Tabernacle Church, encouraged his congregation to push for justice.
“Prayer is not an exercise in futility,” Dickerson said. “We have to stop sitting back when we have black-on-black violence. We have to stand up and speak out when we have police shooting civilians or civilians shooting police. We have to be consistent and we have to be outraged.”