Bishop Jugis calls all to pray for peace, justice in Charlotte

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jason Miczek, Reuters

By Patricia L. Guilfoyle

two nights of violence in Charlotte, Bishop Peter J. Jugis called
on men, women and children in the Diocese of Charlotte to join him in prayers
for “peace and justice” for all victims of violence and for law enforcement
personnel who have been victims of “unjust violence.”

“Let us pray for all men and
women of good will to be instruments of harmony and the always-shining light of
Christ in our neighborhoods, workplaces, schools and public places,” the bishop
said in a statement Sept. 22.

The protests late Sept. 20 and
Sept. 21, with the crowds swelling at one point to 1,000 people, followed the
fatal police shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott, an African-American,
outside an apartment complex the afternoon of Sept. 20.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police
said while they were trying to serve a warrant on another person in the area,
Scott approached them from his parked car carrying a handgun and ignoring their
calls to drop it.

In their statement, police said
Officer Brentley Vinson, who also is an African-American, perceived an
“imminent deadly threat” and shot Scott. Scott later died at a local

Family members insisted that
Scott was unarmed and was reading a book while waiting in the parking lot to
pick up his son from a nearly school bus stop. Police said they recovered a
weapon from the scene, not a book.

Vinson has been placed on
administrative leave while police conduct an investigation that includes
eyewitness interviews and review of police video footage.

When Scott family members took
to social media to criticize police the evening of Sept. 20, people began to
gather at the site of the shooting. By 11 p.m., the protest had swelled to about
1,000 people.

When some protesters began
throwing rocks and smashing the windows of several police cars, police used
tear gas to disperse the crowd, but people continued to protest and block two
roadways and, at one point, a nearby segment of Interstate 85, until early
morning Sept. 21.

Police arrested one person. More
than a dozen police officers were slightly injured in the melee. Local
television video also showed a few people looting and burning the cargo of a
semi-truck that had stopped on the Interstate.

Protests turned violent for a
second night Sept. 21 in uptown Charlotte, about 10 miles away from the site of
the fatal police shooting, with several people injured and several businesses
vandalized and looted. One person was reportedly shot and critically injured by
another civilian. He was listed as being on life support at a local hospital.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police
again used tear gas to try to clear the crowd, some of whom tried to block a
section of Interstate 277 as they departed the protest area.

“My heart bleeds for what
is going on right now,” said Gov. Pat McCrory, who declared a state of
emergency late that night after a request from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police
Chief Kerr Putney. The emergency notice triggered the North Carolina National
Guard and the State Highway Patrol to assist local law enforcement in
responding to the violence.

“Let’s pray for our city
and let’s pray for peace,” added McCrory, who was Charlotte’s mayor from
1995 to 2009.

At a news conference Sept. 22, Putney
said he would allow the family to view the footage, but it would not be released
to the public.

At St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic
Church, just a few blocks from the scene of the police shooting and the
protests there, about 150 people gathered Sept. 21 to pray for peace.

During the evening eucharistic
adoration and benediction, Father Patrick Winslow, pastor, offered prayers for
police and for people who have suffered injustice, as well as prayers for his
neighborhood and the city of Charlotte.

“Last evening we were all
taken by surprise when two events collided here in Charlotte — you could even
say, in our own backyard,” Father Winslow said. “One, the national
ongoing concern about racism in law enforcement and, two, the incident of an
African-American man who lost his life in an altercation with local

“In times such as these, it
is good to recall that light shines in the darkness, and it must shine through
you,” Father Winslow urged parishioners. “Knowing the genuine spirit
of our parishioners, I am confident that you will embrace a path of peace,
prayer and charity.”

History makes it clear, the
priest said, that the light that vanquishes the darkness is not on the
battlefield between nations or races, or “in the streets of Charlotte or any
U.S. city.” “The true battlefield is within the human heart — within each of
us,” he said.

“Injustice must be defeated” in
the heart, the priest said. “This is where prejudice and unjust discrimination
live. This is the place from which fear and darkness enter the world. And
likewise, it is the place where it can be vanquished.”

He urged people to “storm and
loot your hearts, not the streets, if you want true change for the good.
Vanquish the enemy within and then you will truly help your neighbor.”

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Guilfoyle is editor of the
Catholic News Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte.

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