Protesters prompt city officials, clergy to meet for vigil

By St. Clair Murraine 
Outlook staff writer

No one held back their emotion, even as their voices cracked during a Monday gathering of clergy and government leaders.

The mid-morning prayer vigil and meeting with the media had a definite deadpan tone as each speaker responded to protest around the country. Some even mentioned three police-involved shootings that took place during the last three months in the city.

A recent stabbing that resulted in the suspect Natosha “Tony” McDade being shot by a TPD officer was the third. The other victims of police shooting were Mychael Johnson and Wilbon C. Woodard.

State attorney Jack Campbell and Lawrence Revell, chief of TPD, promised that justice will be handed down when investigation of the stabbing and shooting that took place in the Bond neighborhood is completed.

City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox (left) was overcome with emotion when she spoke about raising three Black sons, while Rev. RB Holmes and other listen.

The gathering that lasted nearly 45 minutes was called by Rev. RB Holmes, pastor at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and president of the local chapter of the National Action Network.

At the center of all that was said on a balmy morning was race relations. The event on the front porch of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church bought together Blacks and Whites to pray for the country and people who are protesting the death of George Floyd at the knee of a former Minnesota police officer.

“We have three serious storms rising in America and in our local communities,” Holmes said. “They are the coronavirus pandemic, institutional racism, and poverty. Unfortunately, these diseases disproportionately and sadly impact poor, Black and brown people.”

Those issues were a resounding theme. Rev. Henry Steele, son of Tallahassee’s iconic civil right leader, called racism, police-involved killings and other inequities against Black  “particular serious circumstances of our times.” 

State Attorney Jack Campbell (left) stands next to Rev. RB Holmes and told a press conference audience that justice will be done in police-involved cases.
Photos by St. Clair Murraine

Steele wasn’t only referring to the Floyd, who died while former MPD officer Derek Chauvin had his knee in his neck. He obviously, like every one of the speakers, had racial tension in Tallahassee on his mind.

Especially Campbell and Revell.

“Justice will be done,” Campbell said. “I stand with you shoulder to shoulder with these faith leaders, with the men and women of law enforcement, with the citizens of this entire north Florida area saying that we will not rest until justice is done.”

He said there have been too much victimization of Black and brown people – a sentiment expresses by hundreds of mostly college students who protested down town over four days. 

“The blood is in our streets and I commit to each of you in your own language in this tradition of Pentecost that whether that blood is spilled wrongly by law enforcement justice will be there,” Campbell said.

Revell followed Campbell, saying that he too would like to see justice in the police-involved shootings. He also disclosed that he had a productive meeting with leaders of the protest on Sunday.

“The dialog that we had yesterday afternoon was a tremendous start to the type of dialog that we have been talking about since the very beginning,” Revell said. “Those types of tough conversations have to occur. The passion and the anger are real and those have to be heard and action has to be taken on those. We know those are issues that we can’t keep kicking down the road.”

They are also issues that City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox said she has had to discuss with her three sons. She touted being just the second Black woman elected to serve on the commission in 196 years.

Williams-Cox’ voice cracked when she spoke about a post that one of her sons had on social media. “Am I next,” the post read. Williams-Cox’s response had a matter-of-fact tone.

“Over my dead body; no you’re not,” she said.

Deputy city manager Cynthia Barber also shared an emotional story about having to explain racial injustices to her son and young grandson.

“I looked at him this week with sorrow in my eyes,” she said. “That’s not what a grandson needs to see in his grandmother. He needs to see hope. He needs to see vision. He needs to know that he can have anything he wants if he works hard enough for it. He has to do that. 

“My heart hurts right now.”

Mayor John Dailey said he also feels pain for the city, calling the events during the past week “traumatic.”

“Anytime someone loses their life to violence in our community, it’s a tragedy,” Dailey said. “Last week’s officer-involved shooting is no exception.”

At one point, pastor Lee Johnson even got the speakers and on-lookers to stretch their arms in solidarity of the occasion.

Imam Rashad Mujahid, a Muslim, profoundly used some old gospel lyrics to drive home his message about racism.

“Red and yellow, black and white we are precious in his sight,” he recited.

In his prayer, pastor Greg James asked for help for the people who hurt. He also pleaded for wisdom for the leaders who stood with him and those who weren’t there.

Then, he brought into focus what the morning was about when he said: “We declare peace, peace in our city, in our state, in the nation.”