Ten men walked in front of flowing traffic and formed a wall. Bewildered, an officer turned to me and said, "Reverend, I don't know what they are doing."
My concern grew more for the men blocking traffic. They were perilously close to turning cars that could easily hit them. Sensing the mood of the gathered protestors, I began to lead them in prayer, speaking loudly into my speaker system saying, "The only one who never gets it wrong, and is the Judge of judges, is God. Looting and going to jail is not the way. We want justice, but we also must conduct ourselves respectfully. Trust me, no one gets away with murder, even if they win a case. Life will never be the same for them."
Moments later, our prayers were quickly answered. It seemed that our words had penetrated those blocking traffic as they willingly dispersed without further provocation. The crowd applauded.
This certainly isn't New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles. This is Charlotte. On a humid Saturday night when the Charlotte Police Department finally released two disturbing videos chronicling the last moments of Keith Lamont Scott, a night when no one could predict with certainty just what embers those videos might inflame among frustrated protesters, it was The Church in Charlotte which dominated the night and made the peace that was so very needed.
On a rough night when body cams called into question the police officer’s account that Keith Lamont Scott had pointed his gun at them, and after days of raucous looting and volatile protests, it was the Church that finally dominated the narrative of Charlotte. The people of God were so integrated in the crowd that the pervasive mood was like a Sunday worship service.
Chaplains, ministers, pastors, and youth workers all united. One Muslim imam was so overwhelmed by the show of faith that he asked if I could share about the sixth Commandment of Moses: Thou shall not kill.
I was in awe of what was happening. The Church in Charlotte kept the focus on our belief that the truth would indeed prevail, be it in a local court or in the Highest Court of heaven.
I am a pastor in the Bronx who regularly works with law enforcement in my community. I find it difficult to share this, but the truth is many African Americans don't feel protected by the police anymore. They have seen men shot while cooperating (Charles Kinsey), walking away (Terence Crutcher), running away (Walter Scott), choked to death (Eric Garner), shot while backing up with their hands down (Keith Lamont Scott), and the list goes on.
My nine-year old daughter has expressed that she is scared of the police. When I was 9, I loved the police and saw them as heroes.
Today, sadly, some police officers routinely behave like police work is set in a video game with African Americans as its main targets.
We are in need of serious reform, and new equality and real ‘threat assessment’ police training. Though one percent of the African-American population could accurately be identified as gang-bangers, the other 99% are not threats to society. I am praying that the small batch of trigger-happy officers infecting police forces throughout this country will be proactively removed from the ranks.
Peace is returning to the streets of Charlotte. Sadness still permeates the city, but Charlotte is on the right track.
The city is stabilizing because the Church is engaged.
May we remember in prayer those families now planning funerals: in Charlotte, in Tulsa, and in all places of unrest.
Dimas Salaberrios has served as senior pastor of Infinity Bible Church, which he founded in partnership with Dr. Tim Keller and Redeemer City to City since 2003. His weekday radio show "The Dynamic Life with Pastor Dimas" is broadcast over the Salem Radio Network. Dimas is also the author "Street God: The Explosive True Story of a Former Drug Boss on the Run from the Hood--and the Courageous Mission that Drove Him Back." Pastor Dimas holds a Master of Divinity degree from Alliance Theological Seminary. He lives in the Bronx with his wife Tiffany, and their two daughters. Follow him on Twitter @PastorDimasNYC.