Black churches across the country are beefing up security in light of the Wednesday shooting that killed nine people in a prayer meeting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
“There are pastors around the country meeting with individuals and police chiefs,” said the Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative and associate pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
“Our churches have come together and formulated systematic protocol for security,” said Evans, whose organization represents 34,000 of the nation’s 150,000 black churches. “There will be enough individuals in our congregations who’ll be stationed from the door to the pulpit, watching any unusual behavior to protect our women and children.”
Church parking lots will also be guarded by African-American men who are members of congregations.
The massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has been called a hate crime by federal and local authorities.
Dylann Roof, 21, was arrested and charged with nine counts of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, according to the Charleston Police Department. Authorities say Roof was motivated by racial hatred against African-Americans. Roof’s social media profile revealed a preoccupation with white supremacy.
“We understand church is a soft target. We’re not going to sit back and take it anymore,” Evans said.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck Thursday met with black church leaders in the city to assure them that police security will be heightened. According to the Los Angeles Times, Beck called the Charleston attack “an attack on the cornerstone of American culture and the American people.”
Evans said black churches are not relying on law enforcement alone because of the growing mistrust of police in black communities. There has been a recent string of high-profile deaths of African-American men at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; Los Angeles; and North Charleston, South Carolina that have resulted in protests.
“We rely on us, not on them,” Evans said of police.
He stressed that none of the security measures black churches are taking will involve guns. “We reject any weapon whatsoever,” Evans said. “This is absolutely non-violent. It’s enhanced, non-violent security measures.”
Despite fear among churchgoers, Evans said that worshippers would show up en masse for Sunday service. “We will not be afraid,” he said. “We will not let a 21-year-old racist’s barbaric act destroy us.”