Tomorrow morning at the Phillips Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Phoenix, prominent civil rights activist Reverend Reginald D. Walton is organizing a multi-faith vigil for the nine victims of last night’s shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.
“We cannot idly stand by as one [in] our community is under attack,” he wrote on the Facebook page he created for the event. (A separate vigil occurred at noon today at the Tanner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Phoenix.)
These events come after suspect Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old white male, opened fire during a bible study group at the historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Witnesses say that right before he started shooting, he announced to the room “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the Southern United States, and has been the site of many important moments in history—from a thwarted slave uprising in 1821, to an activist hotspot during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
“We’re praying for healing and peace, and we’re praying that those who are blinded by hate and racism will come to the knowledge of peace and love,” Walton tells New Times.
But tomorrow’s event is also about action, he adds. “It’s time to work. We all have a responsibility and a right to stand up and say ‘I’m going to make a change, and I will not tolerate one instance of terrorism, intolerance, and racism in my community.’”
Many in the media and in the government have been criticized for not initially calling last night’s massacre an act of terrorism, and Walton is choosing to call it that deliberately. “I’m troubled that there is any hesitancy to call it terrorism,” he says. “There is no other way to describe it—he instilled fear in [people].”
According to a press release sent out by Reverend Jarrett Maupin, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in South Phoenix, he and others have asked local law enforcement to offer an extra measure of protection for black churches throughout the county.
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“Though Dylann Roof has been captured by Police in North Carolina, fear of copy-cat actions and other forms of racism-fueled violence has gripped [Phoenix’s] black community,” Maupin is quoted as saying in the press release.
Phoenix Police Chief Joe Yahner made a statement earlier today in which he said that “just as we used our resources to ensure a peaceful outcome at the recent rally held outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, we are committed to ensuring all places of worship in our city continue to be seen as safe places to gather and share beliefs.”
Tomorrow’s vigil begins at 9 a.m. at the Phillips Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (1401 E Adams St, Phoenix, Arizona 85034), and according to Walton, all are welcome.