Book of prayers

Olivia Rice, of Forest Park, center, signs a book of prayers to end the violence in Ferguson, Mo., being passed around by Rocky Twyman as Vernella Trull, of Randallstown, enjoys her lunch after participating in a prayer vigil at Rising Sun First Baptist Church. Congregation members wore church attire from the 1950's and 1960's that were reminiscent of pre-civil rights days. (Al Drago, Baltimore Sun / August 17, 2014)

Del. Emmett Burns, a Baltimore minister, directed his Sunday sermon at the children of his congregation, warning them to be careful in their dealings with police, after a white officer killed an unarmed 18-year-old black man in Ferguson, Mo., last week.

Burns, 73, who marched in the civil rights movement with activist Medgar Evers, echoed the sentiments of protesters in the St. Louis suburb and around the nation decrying the shooting of Michael Brown, but he said blacks need to recognize that they still face inequality.

"We cannot do what white folks do and get away with it," he said. "Our young people are vulnerable — in the streets, in the courts, in the penal institution. They must be cognizant."

Rising Sun First Baptist Church in Lochearn, where Burns preaches, held a short prayer "for peace, serenity and security in Ferguson" during its annual old-fashioned church luncheon that followed Sunday's church service.

"We ask for mercy and strength for the mother and father of Michael Brown," Burns said, as the congregation of roughly 100 paused to bow their heads. "We pray that this terrible tragedy does not spill over to other cities around the nation."

In response to Burns' comments, Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said the mayor believes in improving the Police Department, schools and housing programs together to address Baltimore's racial inequalities.

Baltimore is moving toward greater diversity on its police force and more community-focused policing, "building bridges" with residents and helping them feel more comfortable with officers, Harris said.

"The mayor understands the inequalities of the criminal justice system," he said. "But it's more than just law enforcement."

Rocky Twyman, who serves as a spokesman for Rising Sun and the "Pray at the Pump" movement, collected signatures in a book of prayers for racial healing as folks enjoyed paper plates piled high with soul food.

"By signing, I agree to pray without ceasing for an end to the violence in Ferguson," read the front of the binder. "Prayer is the answer to every problem in life."

Twyman, who has also protested against singers Beyonce and Jay Z for invoking "gangster," lawless values in their music, said he collected more than 50 signatures while standing outside the White House on Friday. He hopes the prayers of churches across the nation will help bring racial harmony in Ferguson.

Vernella Trull, the church's organist and keyboardist, said the shooting immediately brought to mind her 19-year-old granddaughter, who is a sophomore at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

The Randallstown woman said she hasn't had a chance to talk to her about the Ferguson shooting but said she would repeat much of what Burns said.

"I'd tell her to be very careful," she said. "Be aware of your surroundings at all times."

Olivia Rice of Forest Park wrote her name in the prayer book and said she was confident that faith would heal the Ferguson community.

"Prayer will change things," she said. "Good will win out over evil. We have to keep them in our prayers."

Darrell Alexander, a childhood friend of Twyman's, lives in Florissant, Mo., just minutes from where Brown was killed. Alexander's mother was born in Baltimore, so he has been keeping Twyman and other local residents updated on the chaos with constant Facebook posts.

"It's been very intense, but it's also been very relieving," because the issue has received national attention, he said. "No one wants to hear the truth. People want to bury their heads in the sand as though it doesn't exist."

Alexander said he was disturbed by the Ferguson police's tactics, including deploying heavily armed officers to disrupt peaceful protests.

"We should never feel intimidated in demanding justice," he said.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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