By Jason A. Smith
The leader of a local church said he was "encouraged" by the involvement of area residents and law-enforcement professionals in a gathering designed to "build bridges" between the community and police.
Higher Living Christian Church, at 2455 Mount Carmel Road in Hampton, hosted a Law Enforcement Day event Sunday, during its 8:30 a.m., and 11:30 a.m., services. The event was part of the "One Church, One Precinct" initiative, in which a number of area churches and police departments in metro Atlanta are participating.
Approximately 4,500-5,000 members of the congregation attended Law Enforcement Day, along with officials from Clayton County, according to the church's pastor, Andre Landers. The purpose of the occasion, he said, was to "extend a hand of appreciation and thanks" for the efforts of those who work to protect local residents.
"It allowed them to be visible to members of our congregation, and to begin to create better relationships with the community," said Landers.
During the event, Landers invited members of Clayton's law-enforcement community to the front of the church, and prayed for them. A reception was also held in their honor as part of the occasion. The pastor said the messages he brought during the event, were designed to highlight the need for local residents to work together to create safer communities.
"We talked about three institutions that God created, so that we would have stable societies - the home, churches and government - and how there must be synergy between [them]," said Landers. "We can't do it alone, but if we work together, we can help to create the type of environment all of us long for."
Landers later addressed a new development in the case of a recent death, which served as part of his motivation for taking part in the initiative. According to the Associated Press, Atlanta Police made an arrest Tuesday in the death of 19-year-old Spelman College student, Jasmine Lynn. Lynn was shot Sept. 3, as she was walking with friends along the campus of Clark Atlanta University.
Authorities have reportedly charged 21-year-old Devonni M. Benton, a student at ITT Technical Institute, with murder and aggravated assault in the case.
Pastor Landers said he was "happy to hear" about the arrest. Still, he added that a suspect might have been apprehended sooner, if more people had cooperated with the investigation by the Atlanta Police Department.
"I was in a meeting with [Atlanta Police Chief Richard] Pennington a couple of weeks ago, and they were close to making an arrest, but it was solely based on the physical evidence," said Landers. "They were not able to get any of the people who were standing around to come forward and share information. They had to piece everything together, forensically. I immediately thought how much quicker we might have been able to make an arrest, if we had the physical evidence, and people who witnessed the crime would have come forward."
Landers said he hopes power can be taken away from those who engage in criminal activity. One way to do this, he said, is by breaking the "code of silence," which causes fear, and prevents residents from taking action against crime.
Landers expressed a desire for the public to view those who work in public service as "ministers" ordained by God to perform their duties. "In Romans 13, the apostle Paul tells us that all authority exists because God established it," he said. "If we respect them and help them, we are all the better for it. God makes it very clear that He uses them to execute justice and judgment on the earth, and He uses them to keep order in our society. As His ministers, there's a certain amount of respect that we should have for them."
Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson, was in attendance at the Law Enforcement Day service. She said she "very much liked" the event, adding that she appreciates Landers' endeavors to assist those who work in public safety.
"I liked how he said parents should teach their children to take responsibility for their actions, and that expectations for [kids'] behavior should be exemplified by the parents' behavior," said Lawson. "It takes all facets of the community, and particularly churches, to stop crime in our communities. We need strong leaders from the church to set the example."
Tasha Mosley, Clayton's solicitor general, recognized Landers for his "dedication" in working to create a link of "cooperation between police and local residents. She said it was "refreshing" to see the pastor spur his congregation toward that end.
"It's putting responsibility back to the community, instead of looking to others to solve our problems," she said. "Police are always being beaten down. It's about time we honor these men and women, because we don't thank them nearly enough for what they do for us."
Pastor Landers said he hopes to build on the success of Law Enforcement Day in the coming months, by continuing to meet with other ministers and police personnel in the area.