Meeting Held in Wake of Wednesday’s S.C. Church Massacre
By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
As gunman Dylann Roof confessed on June 19 to killing nine members of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, people around the country sent an entirely different message: Race wars and hatred will not be tolerated.
Prayer vigils were held in Brooklyn and throughout the city on behalf of the victims and those grieving for them.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams convened an emergency conference with clergy on Thursday at Borough Hall. The clergy conference, at standing-room-only capacity, brought in more than 100 faith leaders from all three Abrahamic faiths.
Joining them were representatives from the NYPD’s counterterrorism force and other police personnel, including several district liaisons from the NYPD’s Community Affairs Bureau.
The conference’s purpose was to discuss security and safety measures for houses of worship and to share ideas to diffuse and prevent any racially charged attacks.
The clergy asked the NYPD hard questions and were tenacious about getting responses that will help them move forward in protecting their congregations.
After an opening invocation in which the clergy held hands and prayed for the victims who were killed as they studied scripture, Adams asked those around the room to introduce themselves.
Among those present were the Rt. Rev. Lawrence Provenzano (Episcopal Diocese of Long Island), several members of the Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill Clergy Association and members of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council.
“Let me make this clear. That was a terrorist act,” Adams said. “Their church was a victim of terrorism. And we need to be clear to spot terrorism when we see it.”
Adams, a former NYPD officer, said it is his responsibility to protect his constituents.
Counter Terrorism Bureau Inspector Phil Van Gostein gave an update on the Mother Emanuel A.M.E massacre which at the time of the meeting included the arrest of the gunman.
Van Gostein reported on what the NYPD has done thus far to bolster security.
“This morning we had resources out here; we deployed them to our various locations throughout the city,” he said. “On top of that, we relayed our CTO (counter-terrorism offices). We have them all out there over the five boroughs. The local precincts right away start giving special attention to the houses of worship in their commands.”
Adams asked Van Gostein to clarify the situations in which it would be more appropriate to call 911 rather than the commanding officers’ numbers.
“If it’s a suspicious person, car, package, that’s a 911 call,” Van Gostein said.
“If … you see something unusual in your neighborhood or your building, you call 888-NYC-SAFE.”
Adams called for all church leaders to know who their corrections, traffic and law enforcements officers are.
He said he wants to create a safety training system.
“Our best defense is an informed public,” Van Gostein said. He emphasized that each church should have its own plans — evacuation, shelter, lockdowns and notifications.
He said NYPD staff can also offer training at houses of worship.
Debbie Almontaser, president of the Muslim Consultative Network, reminded attendees that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began on Wednesday night and pointed out that Muslims will be commuting to and from mosques throughout the night as part of their normal worship activities.
She also prayed for all the victims and for peace and said she looks forward to working with everyone to keep the city safe.
The faith leaders also called for stronger communications systems and an even stronger commitment to clergy/NYPD collaboration.