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In wake of S.C. shooting, Detroit pastors eye security

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Sadness, anger, frustration, calls for healing and racial unity — and concerns about church security — were expressed Thursday during a local prayer vigil in the wake of the South Carolina shooting in which nine died.

The Rev. Mayowa Lisa Reynolds of Fellowship Chapel holds hands with Madge White of St. Matthew AME Church during prayer vigil Thursday at Bethel AME Church on Warren at I-75 for the victims killed inside Emanuel AME on Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C.

City Councilman Andre Spivey, who also is pastor of St. Paul A.M.E. Church on Detroit's east side, hastily organized the vigil at Bethel A.M.E. It was attended by several ministers and about 50 worshipers who prayed for the victims of Wednesday's shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Spivey said he was a longtime friend of one of the victims, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, church pastor and a South Carolina state senator. Spivey said he "broke down" when he heard the news.

"We preached together," he said. "Our lives paralleled; we're both 41; we're married with two kids; we're both public servants.

"He was a free spirit — a southern, gentlemanly spirit. All his work is not in vain."

Spivey was among several people at the vigil who said the shooting was a stark reminder that no place is safe — including church.

"The reality is, things can happen anywhere now," he said. "(Church) is a haven of rest and safety ... when you cannot be safe in God's place of worship, where can you be safe?"

Spivey added his church has security measures in place, as did the Rev. Larry L. Simmons of Baber Memorial A.M.E. Church in northwest Detroit. Neither would elaborate on the measures in place.

"Unfortunately, we had an incident about a year ago at another church in Brightmoor," Simmons said, referring to a shooting outside the Citadel of Praise Church in July. In that incident, an off-duty police officer serving as a church security guard fatally shot an ax-wielding man who was later determined to be mentally impaired.

"That incident alerted us that our security was not right," Simmons said. "But how do you make a place that's open to the public completely secure? You can't."

Other instances of violence in and around Detroit churches include a February 2006 shooting at the east side Zion Hope Missionary Baptist by 22-year-old Kevin Collins, who opened fire with a shotgun inside the church, sending worshipers scrambling for safety beneath pews.

A 38-year-old woman was killed, and a 9-year-old girl wounded, before Collins dashed outside, and killed a 54-year-old man when he tried to defend his wife from being carjacked. Collins later committed suicide.

In May 2012, an 84-year-old security guard at Victory Way Assembly Church on the city's west side was killed as a Bible study class was underway inside. Two men were convicted in the murder.

The violence isn't confined to Detroit churches. In 2003, a 38-year-old man was fatally shot during services at St. Paul's Albanian Catholic Church in Rochester Hills by a man police said was out to settle a longstanding family feud.

Some Detroit churches hire guards, or employ church ushers to serve as escorts to watch over congregants as they walk to and from their vehicles. But Simmons said even if churches screened visitors with metal detectors, it wouldn't stop someone determined to wreak havoc.

"He could just push the people at the door aside and start shooting," he said. "The main issue to focus on now is: Why do we think violence is a way to solve problems?

"Our bodies may be rippling with the desire for revenge, but we have to listen to the word of the Lord who said, 'Vengeance is mine,' " Simmons said.

Added Spivey: "Of course, I'm angry. But the Bible I read preaches love, not hate."

During Thursday's hourlong service, people held hands and prayed for the nine victims, their families — and for the alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, 21, who reportedly said his goal was to kill black people.

"This is not the first time being black was hazardous to your health," said the Rev. David Bullock of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park, whose voice rose so loud at times, it distorted the PA system's speakers.

"White supremacy is alive and well," he said. "Our president is being called a monkey. Our city is being gentrified. We will not forget. We pray for a country that finally moves past racial prejudice. I'm praying for the black church; I'm praying for the white church.

"We pray that this not be the time for race-baiters," said Bullock, who called the shooting an act of terrorism. "We pray what happened in Baltimore (rioting) not happen in Charleston."

Detroiter Kimberly Baker, 54, said after the service she's struggling to understand what happened, and is fearful she won't be safe in church.

"It's just hard to believe," said the St. Paul A.M.E. church member. "It's hard to understand that you can't go to a house of worship and praise your God without worrying about something like this happening."

Mayowa Lisa-Reynolds, a high school teacher at Detroit School of Arts, said she rushed to attend the vigil between classes.

"I'm still trying to process all this," she said. "I just wanted to come in solidarity. Everyone is so shocked. This was just a way for us to come together. It was helpful."

Lisa-Reynolds added the shooting heightened her concerns about church security.

"I would hate for churches to be a place where people are suspicious of each other," she said. "As a parishioner, I want to feel safe — but I don't want to see the security."

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