Congregants pray for an end to streak of local homicides
(pictured above: Solid Rock Baptist Church’s Rev. Waymon Monroe Jr. asks God to stem the city’s murder rate.)
Perturbed by the recent rash of homicides, the pastor and flock of an East Winston church prayed in front City Hall last week for better – and safer – tomorrows.
The building had a already closed for the day when the four dozen or so members of Solid Rock Baptist converged around 7 p.m. on May 21. The gusty evening meant that many of the miniature white candles they held as they stood in an oval formation were extinguished before Pastor Waymon Monroe Jr. stepped forward to pray, beseeching God to heal and protect the city.
“We know that you can change hearts; you can change minds,” Monroe pronounced.
The pastor said he was summoned by God to City Hall to publicly speak out about the senseless deaths and call for a community-wide solution to youth-perpetrated violence.
“This city is full of youth who are scared, who are afraid, who don’t know what to do,” he said.
Already this year, there have been six homicides – an unusually high number for a city that only had 15 the whole of last year. All the victims – Delroy East, Anthony Ivry Lee Johnson, Christopher Rashawn Thompson, Christopher Dasean Jones, Tyrahn Rashad Elliott, Christopher Shane Larkin and Jerome Dwayne France – were black males; four of them were under the age of 24. All the men were killed with guns, except France – the latest victim – who was purposely hit by the driver of a pick-up truck on April 27. (Many count Jermane Darnell Clark among the city’s fallen, although the city native was murdered April 30 in neighboring Greensboro.)
The violence had already sparked similar calls to action from the community. In mid-March, Diggs Memorial United Holy Church held a panel discussion to dissect the roots of black-on-black crime. A similar summit was held at the Carl Russell Sr. Community Center last month; the center is planning a follow-up awareness march on June 7.
Monroe would like to see a more concerted effort – one that involves not only the faith community, but city, police officials and corporate leaders, too. He said there are too few positive alternatives to the streets for young people and that, along with a lack of employment opportunities, are driving them to act irrationally.
“I feel the community, even the church, has been too silent … I think everyone has to take responsibility,” said Monroe, who believes action is needed urgently, as he fears summer idleness will spur more violence.
Monroe and his congregants opened and closed the vigil by singing “We Shall Overcome,” whose defiant words helped it become the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.
Crystal Thompson believes that a vigilant fight is needed now to curb gun violence. Her son Christopher became the city’s third homicide victim when he was shot just steps from his front door on March 23; his murder remains unsolved. Solid Rock’s was the third vigil Thompson has attended since her son’s death. She said with each subsequent murder, she relives her own loss, so there’s been little peace as of late.
“It has been an uneasy rest,” she said.
Both Thompson and Monroe said they are not under the illusion that prayer alone will stem the tide. Thompson believes the solution must include parents.
“Some of them are out there doing this because they aren’t getting attention at home,” she said of young perpetrators. “They don’t realize that these things they’re doing are harming people, harming the community.”