Churches helped head off unrest
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
12/28/12 at 9:00 AM
As word spread Friday that a white gunman had shot five black north Tulsa residents, three of them fatally, fear also spread that the shootings could spark racial unrest and retaliation.
Those fears were addressed Friday night at a meeting of about 20 north Tulsa lay and clergy church leaders called by Warren Blakney, the minister of the North Peoria Church of Christ.
Blakney said he thinks the actions of the faith community had a calming effect on what could have been an explosive situation.
He was on his way back to Tulsa after preaching at a revival in Texarkana, Texas, when his phone began to ring about midday Friday. He asked leaders to meet at his church to "try to calm things down," he said Monday.
"I feel that had we not addressed it and gotten on top of it quickly, the situation could have gotten out of control, and it could have become a very difficult time for the city of Tulsa," said Blakney, who is president of the local NAACP chapter.
"We asked our people to remain calm, to let the police do their jobs, to let justice go through the proper channels," he said.
"All the lay people (at the meeting) took that message back to their churches. We felt the churches were a great tool to get the message out to let justice take its course."
Blakney also said the quick, decisive action by Tulsa police, the FBI and the Sheriff's Office, all working together, not only led to the arrests early Sunday of two men in connection with the shootings but also might have long-term benefits for the city.
"This will give us common ground and something to build on," he said. "It's unfortunate about the deaths of three people, but trust in the Police Department may be enhanced."
Blakney said black males in north Tulsa have had a "really bad relationship" with Tulsa police, a distrust developed from years of seeing "so many issues of racial-profiling" and the recent police corruption scandal.
"This may be a unique opportunity to build some trust," he said.
The Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, senior minister at All Souls Unitarian Church, said concern was expressed at the meeting about retaliation, copycat shooters and hysteria.
He said the group decided to encourage caution and calm and give the police time to do their jobs.
"We also made a contingency plan of action to reach out to authorities beyond Tulsa just in case it appeared the police did not take the situation seriously enough, but to wait and see how they did first," he said.
"The police and mayor both did an excellent job."
Lavanhar said he preached on the shootings on Easter morning.
Marvin Blades, a retired Tulsa police officer who is now with the Tulsa Public Schools campus police force, agreed that the churches "stepped up" to defuse what could have become a bad situation.
"I think what helped the most was the joint effort between the Tulsa police, the north Tulsa ministers and the NAACP," said Blades, who is president of 100 Black Men of Tulsa Inc.
"We urged everyone to wait for the facts, and that had a calming effect on the community.
"You had some fringe groups talking about retaliation," he said, "but calmer voices prevailed, saying we had no idea who did this, and those public statements may have kept those fringe elements from acting adversely."
Not all north Tulsans were aware of fears of retaliation.
Pleas Thompson, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Society, attends the northside Covenant Family Church, next door to Jack's Memory Chapel, where one of the victims' bodies was found on the lawn. He runs a business across the street from the funeral home and was questioned by police after the shootings, along with others in the neighborhood.
Thompson said everyone was talking about the shootings over the weekend but that he did not hear anyone talking about retaliation.
"I never did sense that it was going to get out of hand," he said. "People were fearful that something else would happen and relieved when the two men were caught."
The Rev. W.R. Casey, president of the Christian Ministers Alliance, said he was aware of unrest in the north Tulsa community but not of a fear of retaliation.
"The churches were praying. We're going to pray for salvation for those two people," he said of the suspects, Jake England and Alvin Watts, who had their first court appearance Monday in the shootings.
Check back at tulsaworld.com for more updates. Find complete coverage at tulsaworld.com/shootings.
How you can help the victims and their families
Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry announced Monday that it has set up a fund to benefit the families of the five shooting victims.
Tax-deductible donations will be divided evenly among the five families, said the Rev. Ray Hickman, Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry's executive director.
"At first we were planning to help the three families whose members were killed," he said, "then we realized that the two survivors' families would also be financially hurt."
To help or to get more information, contact Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry at 918-582-3147 or via email at email@example.com.
Bill Sherman 918-581-8398
Tulsan Krystal Tattershall places a memorial on Monday at the scene where her neighbor Bobby Clark was shot to death. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Warren Blakney, local president of the NAACP and the minister of the North Peoria Church of Christ, preaches at the church Sunday. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World
Renae Shoates (from left); Margaret Love; Warren Blakney, local president of the NAACP and the minister of the North Peoria Church of Christ; and Kavin Ross participate in a memorial service for the shooting victims at the church Sunday. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World