Today it hit close to home.
Shortly after noon, a young black man, 24 year-old Akiel Denkins, was shot and killed by a City of Raleigh Police officer. As the story was reported by WRAL-TV, Jenkins, who was wanted on a felony drug charge and was approached , fled from the officer who gave chase. Apparently Denkins and the officer jumped over one fence and when Denkins jumped over a second fence and the officer could not the officer began shooting, allegedly hitting Denkins in the back and he died. Reportedly there was a gun found "in close proximity" to Denkins. The shooting occured in the South Park, a historical African-American community. This community is less than a mile from my church and literally down the street and around the block from the church manse which we used to own. I lived there my first three years and when Denkins was shot and killed was less than a five-minute walk from the manse. As you can imagine tensions are running VERY high. Denkins' mother told reporters her son was shot for nothing. There are plenty of eyewitnesses and police had blocked off the street to conduct their investigation. The office has not been revealed or mentioned by name as of yet. Just as quickly as it happened, crowds of people have gathered and participated in a prayer vigil. Neighborhood Clergy colleagues like my friend, Rev. Chris Jones from Ship of Zion Church have expressed concern about the future relationship between the police and the neighborhood. Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, President of the North Carolina State Chapter of the NAACP has issued a letter calling for a full and thorough investigation and the Raleigh Police Chief said the State Bureau of Investigation will review the shooting.
I first heard about the shooting from our former Clerk of Session through a phone message she left on my cellphone. At first the news did not have any information other than a Raleigh police officer shot and killed a man. As the day went on more information appeared and I could hear police helicopters hovering around the neighborhood. Crowds of onlookers started to gather at the scene of the shooting. When I returned the former Clerk's call, there was live, on the scene video on WRAL-TV. Since my route home is right near the scene I pondered stopping and seeing what was going happening. As I approached I could see cars parked on the streets and sidewalks along the the vehicles from the local news stations. People were gathering and the police has blocked off the street. I thought about pulling over, getting out and seeing what was going on. I had nowhere to go and nothing to do that would have prevented me from stopping. But I kept on going and did not stop.
I thought about for a moment. In this work for justice and peace, we all have different ways of carrying out this ministry. There are some who will be on the scene immediately and have conversation with people or act as peacemakers to calm the crowd down. Some are agitators who will incite the people before finding out all the evidence just on principle (shooting of young black men, unjust structures, etc.). There are some who like to stay and work behind the scenes. And there are some who pray for the situation but never put themselves into action. I have found over the years I am a mix of being a peacemaker and working behind the scenes. But for some unexplained reason, I acted like most people and just passed by. I often think what are the implications of just passing by. Does it mean that the Gospel I preach is not the one I practice? Does it mean I am already beat down by the deaths of young black men that I feel helpless and hopeless? Does it mean that I have some unresolved stuff I need to work through? I am not a stranger to participating in protests. But I could have at least stopped by to give comfort to someone. Or to be a presence of Christ in the midst of pain, confusion and sorrow. I could have prayed for and with others in this community of faith. But for some reason I did not.
All I know that somebody in our community may be asking, "Where are you, Rev?"