Pastors across East County read a statement to their congregations over the weekend calling for unity and transformation after the fatal police shooting of Alfred Olangoless than a week ago.
Rev. Rolland Slade, lead pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, said 25 pastors who are part of the East County Pastors Prayer Network agreed to read the declaration during their weekend services.
The statement acknowledged the tragic killing of Olango, a 38-year-old Ugandan refugee, had left the community shaken, and it stressed the importance of truth and transparency in the aftermath of his death.
But even as community members grapple with their grief, they must come together, Slade said, if they have any hope of creating lasting change.
“We’ve lost the art of listening,” he said. “…we’ve lost the art of listening to one another and because of that we’re fearful of one another in certain situations and circumstances. We need to listen again.”
Olango’s sister called police Tuesday about Olango, who was distressed over the the death of his best friend. He didn’t immediately comply with officers who arrived, and after pulling an object from his pocket and aiming it at them, he was fatally shot by Officer Richard Gonsalves.
Officers thought the object was a gun. It was actually a vaping device. Video of the incident was released by the District Attorney’s Office Friday.
The death sparked days of mostly peaceful protests around the county. On Saturday, the fifth day of demonstrations, 17 people were arrested, most of whom refused to vacate the area after officers declared an unlawful assembly.
El Cajon police Lt. Rob Ransweiler said officers shut the protest of about 300 people down after a fight broke out and someone reportedly left to get a gun. The group had gathered where Olango was shot, near Broadway and North Mollison Avenue.
“Sensing this shift in the demeanor of the crowd and out of concern for community safety, officers declared an unlawful assembly and ordered the group to disperse,” Ransweiler said in a statement.
On Sunday, Slade said he watched relationships between community groups that had taken years to forge fall apart in the wake of the shooting.
“I believe that we have an opportunity to be different from Tulsa, and from Ferguson and from Charlotte,” he said, mentioning cities where other controversial fatal police shootings of black men have taken place.
He said as the community moves forward, conversation would be vital to promote healing. He urged his congregation to embrace discussion, but to inject it with mercy and love.
Pastors across the county addressed the fatal shooting in their sermons.
Pastor Terry Brooks of Bayview Baptist Church in Encanto said the days following Olango’s shooting have been trying and emotional. He told his congregation that while the amount of work ahead may seem daunting, to remain hopeful that change can and will occur with God’s help.
During his sermon in Point Loma, Pastor Miles McPherson of the Rock Church said he has had conversation after conversation in the wake of the shooting, encountering a full spectrum of opinions.
He encouraged his congregation to be passionate and to pursue justice and peace — but not to forget to love each other along the way.
“When I was watching the video of Alfred in the parking lot, I saw his mom’s heart,” said Miles of the video that showed the shooting. “Forget all the politics, that was a man that went into eternity. That was a mom’s heart. I saw a cop… whose life was changed forever.”
He closed his sermon with a prayer for everyone involved including protesters, police, the family of Olango, and Gonsalves, the officer who shot him, and his family.
Read more at Pastors call for unity in wake of El Cajon shooting.