King’s legacy remembered, call goes to state senators to sign police reform bill

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

By comparison to what was going on simultaneously in Washington, D.C., to mark the 57th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King “I have a dream” speech, a Tallahassee gathering of clergy, law enforcement and elected officials was small.

However, the message that resonated from most of the speakers on the portico at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church had a resounding theme, though. They called on state senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to encourage their peers to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020.

While some also called for unity, others reminded the audience who came to the event put on by the local chapter of the National Action Network to vote. The national chapter of NAN led by Rev. Al Sharpton also held the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks Commitment March” at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Rev. R.B. Holmes appealed for unity in the community.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

King’s name and his push for civil rights, including police reform, were echoed throughout the hour-long event last Friday.  Rudy Ferguson, pastor at New Birth Tabernacle of Praise, invoked King’s name throughout a prepared statement.

“He pushed the nation to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity and redeemed what he felt police brutality at that time was unexplainable and unspeakable,” said Ferguson, who heads up the TPD Citizens Advisory Council.

Congressman Al Lawson talked about the influence local civil rights leaders had on his life.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

He went on to mention a part of the iconic speech by King, who would have been 91 years old, is still relevant in spite of the national call by protesters for police reform.

“As long as Black Americans continue to be victims of an unspeakable horror of police brutality,” Ferguson said, “discriminatory policing practices that Dr. King personally faced still lives on.”

Rev. RB Holmes, president of the local chapter of NAN, used the occasion to call for unity at a time when politics has divided the country.

“We believe that we are better united and not divided,” said Holmes, who is publisher of the Outlook and pastor at Bethel. “We are better talking about hope, prayer and healing. We are better when we talk about one community; not two communities. We are better when we are not talking at each other but talking to each other.”

Pastor Rudy Ferguson reiterated some of Dr. Martin Luther King’s principles.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

The divide is visible in Tallahassee with protesters calling for police reform in the wake of Floyd’s death in police custody and the recent shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.

Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil and Tallahassee Police Department Chief Lawrence Revell used the platform to make reassuring statements. Finding answers to improving the image of law enforcement isn’t up to the agencies alone, McNeil said.

“The only manner in which we can achieve that outcome is for citizens to take issues with where they find the injustice,” he said.

One of the key elements of the George Floyd police reform act is banning officers’ use the chokehold. Revell said such a policy has been in place locally for several years.

“There is no one that disdains police brutality more than those of us in law enforcement because it paints such a dark cloud over men and women that are out there every day serving our community,” Revell said. “We are committed hand in hand to make sure that we address every act of police brutality and that we do not allow it in our community.”

Early in the gathering, Rev. Joe Parramore, chairman of the Florida Leadership Council for Faith in Public Life, made a passionate call on the two state senators to act. He appealed to them to act in the names of Floyd, Blake and Breonna Taylor, all victims of police shootings.

“Today is a call to action, action that speaks to the abhorrent behavior of unthreaded policing in our country and action that call on elected officials to uphold the sacred oath bound by the Constitution,” Parramore said. “Actions that say to senators Rubio and Scott walk in your faith.”

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