With the parents of Michael Brown in his congregation, the pastor of a North Baltimore AME church announced an initiative Sunday aimed at educating people about what they can and cannot do — and perhaps more importantly, should and should not do — when stopped by police.
"We're bringing the whole community to arm them, not with weapons, but with information," said Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple Church, "so that they'll know what to do when I'm stopped by a police officer; when I am accosted what can I say, and what are my rights."
Bryant said his COPS initiative ("Conscious Operations during Police Stops"), set for Tuesday, is a response not only to what happened in Ferguson, Mo., last month, when an unarmed Brown, 18, was shot and killed during an altercation with police. He said it was also prompted by incidents in Baltimore, especially the beating in June of a South Baltimore man being arrested outside a liquor store at Greenmount and North avenues. Video of that incident recently surfaced, and the victim has filed a $5 million lawsuit against the city.
"We're seeing a trend across the country about abuse of power that is happening to African-Americans at the hands of police," Bryant said during a news conference before announcing the initiative to his congregation. "I really wanted to raise the understanding that what we're watching in Ferguson is happening right here in Baltimore."
Brown's parents, Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden, were present during the news conference but took no questions. During the worship service that followed, Bryant introduced them to the congregation and brought them forward to stand alongside him, but neither spoke. The elder Brown was wearing a tie with his son's picture on it.
"I think the presence of Michael's parents reflects the times that we are in," Bryant said. "Every time we see them, their silence still speaks volumes about how it is that our children are still moving targets, and that they need to be covered and protected."
Daryl D. Parks, one of the attorneys representing the family of Trayvon Martin, was also present. Martin, 17, was killed in February 2012 during a run-in with George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman was later acquitted of manslaughter and second-degree murder charges.
The COPS initiative will feature attorneys discussing proper police procedures, the rights of those who are stopped and what to do if your rights are being violated. It is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Empowerment Temple Church, 4217 Primrose Ave.