Small Gary rally supports victim in Ferguson, Missouri, shooting
By Lisa DeNeal Post-Tribune correspondent August 21, 2014 10:02PM
Gary Police Patrol Commander Samuel Roberts (left) and Commander Kerry Rice (right), an active member of many community programs, attended A Gary in Solidarity with Ferguson event. At Progressive Community Church, Thursday, August 21st, 2014, in Gary. | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 22, 2014 2:02AM
GARY — Heavy rain did not keep Pastor Curtis Whittaker of Progressive Community Church in Gary from hosting a “Gary in Solidarity With Ferguson” rally Thursday evening.
Originally scheduled to take place outside at 13th and Broadway, it was moved inside at the small church.
And while the crowd was small, the message was loud and clear as Whittaker shouted, “Hands up!” and the audience, with raised hands responded, “Don’t shoot!”
Whittaker and community activist Natalie Ammons coordinated the rally to show solidarity with those protesting the Aug. 9 shooting death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by a police officer. Brown was unarmed.
“We want to show Ferguson that we are with them and they are not alone,” Whittaker said.
The rally followed a chance opportunity for Whittaker and some family members to go to Ferguson Aug. 16.
“We were in St. Louis for my grandmother’s 90th birthday, and Ferguson is five minutes away so this was the chance to join the citizens of Ferguson in a peaceful protest,” he said.
And it was a peaceful one, according to Whittaker.
“People were marching and shouting, ‘No justice, no peace’ and ‘Hands up! Don’t shoot!’ and we met a 17-year-old named Quan who grew up in Ferguson and was very frustrated and angry. I asked if we could pray for him and we did,” the pastor said.
Whittaker said the atmosphere later changed suddenly as a group of ministers had gathered to pray.
“That’s when a busload of police officers in full riot gear pulled up and jumped out of the bus,” Whittaker said, and people started running away, screaming, ‘they are going to get us!’”
Whittaker’s nephew, Matthew Edmonds, 21, of Gary, echoed his uncle’s description of the Aug. 16 demonstration.
“It was very peaceful. ... It was awesome to be in that crowd with all races showing support for Mike Brown,” he said. “You felt the love, but sadly it was for an horrible incident. I wish that type of support was around all the time.”
Edmonds said he would go back to Ferguson to show his support.
Ruthie Wilson, of Merrillville, said her son, Jonathon Wilson, 24, is returning Friday to Ferguson for a second time to show his support for Brown’s family.
“He told me he had been tear-gassed the first time he went, which was last week. And he wanted me to know that all of the stores were not looted, just the ones targeted for showing prejudices against blacks,” Wilson said. “My son also said he could see the anger from the young black men, that they are angry and vengeful from what has happened.”
Todd Benkert, of Harvest Baptist Fellowship Church in Merrillville, said as a white man and church leader he noticed the differences in reactions to Brown’s death through his Facebook page. When the news broke, his black friends posted about Brown but his white friends posted about the death of Robin Williams and the race car driver’s death, he said.
“It was five days later when my white friends began posting about Brown and Ferguson on their pages,” Benkert said. “Many of my white friends had a common reaction which was, ‘wait for the facts.’ ... I have a teenage son, and I don’t have to worry about giving him ‘the talk’ about what to do when the police stop you. Our experiences are not like the black experience.
“We have to show public unity. I don’t want history to repeat itself where we get together, talk and then walk off happy like all is OK when it is not. We have to be of one accord,” he said.
The Rev. John Jackson, of Trinity United Church of Christ in Gary, who is black and a former Chicago police officer, said he experienced firsthand racial profiling by Chicago police.
“When I was not in uniform and driving my squad car, the police pulled up behind me, but when I showed my badge they let me go,” Jackson said. “I will say this, unless we have a real conversation about race and come together to make changes, we will continue to have Ferguson incidents. Gary and Chicago are a step away from becoming Ferguson.”