The Dallas Morning News
AT CITY VIGILS, calls for unity and healing.
‘We need this community,’ chief says at interfaith event
In a city that has never been shy about its faith, politicians joined pastors, priests, imams and rabbis in imploring a community to find solace in God and to bridge their differences — not lean into them — following a deadly attack on police that left Dallasites struggling to understand the unfathomable.
“In the end, three things remain: faith, hope and love. We need all three today,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said Friday afternoon, as the Texas sun beat down on thousands of area residents packed into Thanks-Giving Square for an interfaith vigil. “We must have faith in each other, in our institutions. We must have hope and believe that tomorrow will be better. And it will. We must love one another because if we don’t, this cancer of separatism will kill this body.”
The event took place blocks away from the perch where a sniper opened fire during what had been a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, killing four Dallas police officers and one DART officer. Seven more officers and two civilians were injured.
Downtown office workers, their badges still hanging from lanyards around their necks, sweat soaking their shirts, stood alongside families craning their necks to spot the speakers, who hailed from a range of faiths.
Many in the crowd couldn’t hear what they said, but when applause started, it rippled through the audience. And when a moment came for silent reflection, heads bowed in unison.
Police Chief David Brown said his officers needed backing from the community.
“We’re hurting and we need this community,” he said, wiping his bloodshot eyes. The crowd applauded.
Rawlings said he hopes the city will emerge stronger and better-equipped to tackle racial divisions head-on.
“We are here, this diverse group of leaders and elected officials, to honor the five police officers who have lost their lives, to pray for them and their fellow officers that are still alive in the working force,” he said. “We will not shy away from the very real ... rhetoric and actions that pit one against the other . ... We gotta change.”
It was a message that resonated with Kathy Cervantes, who brought her 7-year-old son Gianni to the vigil from Lavon.
“They touched on a lot of things: how different races, different religions should meet on a regular basis, not just when this happens,” she said. “I think it starts with the church leaders.”
At the edge of the square — a space designed to promote the giving of thanks for cultural unity and peace after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy — Gianni pointed out a group of men in blue uniforms.
“Cool, there’s police officers over there,” he said, a SWAT hat perched on his head.
“Yes, they’re watching us,” the mother told her child.
Mike Cleaver, 55, said it was nice to gather with “like-minded people,” looking for a way to start the healing process.
“I don’t think anybody slept well last night,” he said.
Izzy May, 33, who wore a Downtown Dallas Inc. T-shirt, sobbed into a friend’s shoulder as officials spoke.
She said it was the first hug she’d gotten since the horror of the night before.
“I’m thinking we need more accountability for everyone and less finger-pointing,” she said. Although she doesn’t consider herself religious, she said she believes in God.
“I think what helps is that I believe so thoroughly we are all God,” she said.
Mooka Hecht, 27, who sat on a ledge near the back of the square, works with her husband at the Intown Chabad, which aims to build a community of Jewish young people.
She said more than anything, she hoped to “spread light,” particularly on the Sabbath.
“The only thing we can do is try to increase acts of goodness and kindness,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are or your religion.”
Around the city, residents found comfort in smaller gatherings or quiet moments of faith.
“We basically found out pretty quickly that people are looking for something like this after what happened,” said Cedar Hill police Lt. Colin Chenault, who helped organize a prayer service there. “I know I sure felt better afterward.”
At the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Rev. Rudy García gave hugs to parishioners after the noon Mass on Friday.
“The police officers, Father?” said a woman in the air-conditioned lobby.
“A noble profession,” said García, who is the cathedral rector. His message to the city: Psalm 34:18. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Jamal Melton, 38, and Abdullah James, 40, amirs at the Islamic Center of South Dallas, said that although they were not holding a vigil, they planned to talk to people in their community about the shooting.
“It doesn’t take away our awareness of what’s happening in our communities,” said James, who serves a largely black congregation.
Melton said that the importance was to move past preconceived notions of people.
“We have to get to know police officers,” Melton said, “and they have to get to know us.”
Joseph J. Clifford, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, said the attacks hit close to home — literally — for the more than century-old downtown congregation of about 1,600.
Now, he said, it’s vital that residents resist letting violence divide the community.
“I think it’s important not to isolate ourselves — it’s important not to buy into hateful rhetoric and fear,” he said. “We can’t let evil people define our world.”
He said the doors of the church will remain open.
Clifford recalled visiting Saint Paul AME Church in the wake of last year’s Charleston, S.C., shootings and being welcomed.
“I had some calls asking if we were going to have armed guards,” he said. “I went to St. Paul AME and here I am, a white man in a suit and [a woman there] gave me a hug. She said, ‘Welcome, brother.’ And that’s the posture that the church must take . ... We need to not let the evil of a few define us.”
Bishop T.D. Jakes, founder of the Potter’s House in Dallas, said he hoped the day could be a “turning point,” to move forward discussions about thorny problems like poverty.
“I’m hoping that we’re on the precipice of change,” he said.
Still, some leaders worried that the city’s time of unity in tragedy could dissolve, leaving behind the broader societal issues that have given rise to violence around the country.
Ben Lovvorn, executive pastor of First Baptist Dallas — a congregation of about 12,000 in downtown Dallas — said that “what happened last night is a symptom of that type of attitude that’s pervasive through our nation right now.”
The church, which is led by Pastor Robert Jeffress, has drawn controversy for its anti-LGBT stance. Recently, Rawlings and Brown faced backlash over what Jeffress described as an “ongoing relationship” with the Dallas Police Department.
“The church is very supportive and stands aligned with the Dallas Police Department,” he said. “It’s very disturbing that so many would act in a way that demonstrates disrespect for the police officers and the law and what’s right.”
But the Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III said systemic inequality has given rise to a “powder keg” of racial injustice and deeply embedded prejudice, both within Dallas and nationwide, that exploded Thursday night.
Haynes, of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Oak Cliff, said that although as a Christian he “live[s] by hope,” he has grave concerns about whether the goodwill fostered in the wake of tragedy would translate into action.
“Today was a great day of faith,” he said. “Now where are the works?”