September 21, 2016: The Central Seventh-day Adventist Church in Columbus, Ohio, was having the regular Wednesday night prayer meeting last week (September 14) when 13-year-old Tyre King was shot by police in front of the church building. Pastor John Boston was preaching when the gunshots were heard.
The group saw the flashing lights of police cars and emergency units. Later, the pastor told a reporter for The Columbus Dispatch it was his worst fears come to the doorstep of his church. “One thing that I really prayed for … was that we would not have to ever experience in Columbus the loss of life between a police officer and a young African American. It’s devastating.”
King was shot and killed by Officer Bryan Mason who thought the African American teenager had pulled a gun after robbing a man on the street. Later detectives found that the weapon was only a BB gun. There has been a lot of tension in the central Ohio city over the same couple of weeks that police shootings have occurred in a number other American cities, as well as terrorist events in Minnesota and New York City.
There has not been violent crowds in Columbus, and it may be, in part, because Boston and the Central Adventist Church have played a role in helping establish open communication between the community and local officials, including the police chief and the mayor. Friday night (September 16) Boston led a march through the Old Town East neighborhood with a drum corps provided by the congregation’s Pathfinder Club. Residents joined the procession as it made its way to the Adventist church where an open meeting began.
Police Chief Kim Jacobs showed how the BB gun looked like a real weapon, and when someone said that was insensitive under the circumstances, the chief apologized. Mayor Andrew Ginther told the gathered residents that he hoped the city can stop violence and questioned the widespread obsession with guns. “It is unacceptable for a 13-year-old to be armed with a firearm replica.”
Citizens lined up at microphones in the aisles of the sanctuary to ask many questions and share their views with city leaders. In the end, Zawadi Yaashantawal, a member of the neighborhood council, told the group, “This was a positive first step in creating a dialog between the community and the police department. I think it had great impact.”
The Central Adventist Church in Columbus has 350 members and is affiliated with the denomination’s Allegheny West Conference. It is an historically African American congregation located in an inner city neighborhood in the capital of the State of Ohio.