A hundred people of all colors came to a church in Rubonia on Monday night and kept coming in until every seat was taken and they had to stand in the back.
The diverse crowd which filled Shining Light Church of God In Christ to overflow was not drawn to hear a speech from a pop star or a sports hero.
In the wake of the shooting of police officers in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Kansas City and elsewhere, and the shootings of civilians by police, people in the crowd said they came because they had heard the church was putting on, “All Lives Matter,” which would give them a chance to hear from Manatee County police officers on how they are dealing with the shootings.
“We appreciate what they do and we are glad to have them here tonight,” said crowd member Sharon Garvin of Palmetto, a black woman who wore a red T-shirt that read, “All Lives Matter.”
“Their jobs are very important,” Garvin added.
Speakers at the event among others included Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, retired Manatee County Sheriff’s Lt. John Murrell, who is now an elder with the Church of God in Christ and a powerful preacher, Manatee County Sheriff’s Detective Darryl Davis and Capt. Mike Stinson of the Palmetto Police Department.
The program was conceived by the church’s pastor of 18 years, the Rev. Roosevelt Watkins, who said he wanted to put on an event that wasn’t a town hall meeting for airing grievances, but rather sort of a pep rally where men and women in blue could tell their stories.
“I understand the Black Lives Matter movement but it was dropped into my spirit that all lives matter,” Watkins said. “Black, white, blue, gold. Surely, we have to get rid of the injustice, but also learn to live peacefully with one another.”
Murrell, Steube and Davis all told the crowd that although some police officers have committed unjustified shootings, the bulk of police interactions are positive. The speakers urged audience members to simply follow commands when given.
“If they say lay down, lay down,” Davis said. “They have a reason for what they are asking.”
Said Murrell, whose reputation in Manatee is based on his work with youth in schools, “There are a lot of great police officers doing this thing the right way and trying to serve their community. We are asking you to support us. If something is done wrong leave it to the people who can make changes.”
Steube also was clear that there have been shootings of civilians by police which have not been justified. But he said those are small in number. In most cases, the shootings have been justified, he said.
“There is a reason why a police officer asks you to do something,” Steube said. “It is important for a police officer to have compliance.”
Stinson’s speech was emotional and the crowd could feel it.
He told the crowd that he loves Palmetto and is insulted when people do crimes in his town. He also told the crowd that he is frustrated when Manatee residents don’t help him solve crimes.
“Two weeks ago at The Hall, the nightclub, we had a shooting on a crowded dance floor,” Stinson said. “There were 800 people in this building. No one saw anything. That’s a problem.”
There is a town hall meeting on violence scheduled at 7 p.m. Aug. 3 at Mt. Raymond Full Gospel Church, 2410 Fourth Ave. E., Palmetto.