Around the country, it has been a summer of violence and untold tragedy. A little over a month ago on June 12th, the nation, Central Florida, and the Apopka community suffered through the worst mass shooting in our country’s history at The Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.
That was 36 days ago.
Since that day, we have endured tragedies in Minnesota, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Nice (in France) and again in Baton Rouge. Those were the headlined incidents.
However there have been 195 mass shootings in the United States this year. Between the Pulse tragedy and the senseless shooting of six police officers in Baton Rouge, there have been 57 other mass shootings (which is defined as four or more people being shot in one incident).
Apopka is not a stranger to gun violence. Although a police officer has not been killed in over 50 years, and the last suspect shot by an Apopka police officer was in 2011, the spring of 2016 was a particularly deadly season for parts of the Apopka Community with four shooting fatalities in eight days.
The South Apopka Ministerial Alliance is not an organization to sit on the sidelines. In response to the fatalities, they spearheaded The Apopka Community Task Force on Violence, which concluded a 90-day study just last week. After the shootings in Baton Rouge yesterday, they organized a rally in support of police officers both in Apopka, and around the country. The event drew over 50 people to the steps of the Apopka City Hall Building despite being organized in less than a day.
The rally drew a lot of diversity both in race and opinions, but two common denominators did emerge – support for the police and unity.
“We are here about the things that are transpiring around the nation,” said Pastor Hezekiah Bradford, President of the Alliance. “What can we do as citizens? What can we do to insure that what is happening around the country will not happen here? We want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with law enforcement, and we want to pray for all of those first responders that have fallen across the country.”
In these trying days, Apopka Chief of Police Michael McKinley expressed his concern over the increase in violent crimes across the nation, but also gave his thanks for the support his department is receiving from the community.
“We appreciate your support. Remember that police officers are husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, fathers, mothers and neighbors. They are part of this community too. And they want this community to be safe and they come to work every day with nothing but good intentions and they protect the community and they make sure everybody goes home safely. We need to address the violence in our community. Violent crimes are on the rise throughout the United States. Not violence between the community and police, but violence within the communities itself. Violence is out of control. We resort to violence far too often instead of just trying to work things out.”
Pastor Darrel Morgan of The Word of Life Church in Apopka spoke of returning to the words and teachings of Jesus to overcome the rash of violence.
“Today we’re a nation of the people, by the people and for the people. We are a nation under God and as a pastor of a church I have a privilege and a responsibility to teach the people in my congregation to obey the laws of our land. We do what the Lord Jesus said to do. He gave us a mandate in the Sermon on the Mount to love our enemies and pray for one another. If we as a nation walk away from our Christian heritage, this nation is going to go under. We need to come back to the word of God. We need to keep the laws of the land.”
Yes we do have some problems. But I can see from the number of people here that Apopka cares about its police officers.
We can work through these problems. We are here to work with you, and we are going to be standing in the gap.”
City Commissioner Doug Bankson, also the Lead Pastor at Victory World Outreach Church in Apopka, echoed Morgan’s thoughts on the Bible being our guide.
“It’s important to know that we are not the black race, or the white race, but the human race. We’re all in this together and the Bible says we need to be, because if we divide each other, we will devour each other. The word of God said it’s not right to take vigilante justice. God said I will repay injustice. He is a just judge. We need to spread the positive message of God’s love. We are one race – the human race.”
Mayor Joe Kilsheimer quoted from President Obama’s remarks yesterday on the shootings in Baton Rouge, and pointed out the unique qualities of a police officer, but also the fact that they are one of us.
“The President said it yesterday that an attack on our police is an attack on all of us. Our police officers are a part of us. We need to hold them in our hearts as though they are a part of our family. When mistakes occur, there has to be a measure of accountability… and we all believe in that accountability. But the fundamental bottom line is that our police officers are here for us and we need to keep that in mind.”
Apopka businessman Rod Love quoted one of the fallen Baton Rouge police officers in his call for unity among the Apopka community.
"Montrell Jackson, The officer from the Baton Rouge Police Department, wrote these words...
‘Im tired physically and emotionally. These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city must and will get better. I’m working in these streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer. I got you.’
And we know that to be the case in law enforcement here, and we know that to be the case in law enforcement around the country. Yes we do have some problems. But I can see from the number of people here that Apopka cares about its police officers. We can work through these problems. We are here to work with you, and we are going to be standing in the gap.”
Bishop Kelvin Cobaris is the Founding Pastor of The Impact Church in Orlando, and is running for Florida House District 45 of the Florida Legislature. He spoke of unity and community love, but also pushed back on the Black Lives Matter narrative.
“One of the most important things we have to do as a city is unite. Let’s tell the community to unite. And no matter how much we talk about gun reform. No matter how much we talk about legislating things to try to bring this violence into a manner of control in our community - you cannot legislate love. You cannot legislate or put in laws to stop evil. All of us are not filled with hate. All of us are not filled with evil. It’s not just black lives that matter, all lives matter. And I understand the Black Lives Matter narrative, but at the end of the day if that narrative brings us to divisiveness and to hatred and violence, I condemn it. I stand against it. And I stand for those that are standing for uniting a community and not dividing it.”