Charlotte Priest: People ‘Need to Hear Message … That We Are Called to Be a Light’

Father Patrick Winslow wants to offer a ‘simple message of prayer, of charity and reassurance’ to those hurting in his city.

A police officer stands guard near a fire on the I-85 during protests in the early hours of Sept. 21 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The protests followed the fatal shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott by a police officer at an apartment complex near UNC Charlotte.
A police officer stands guard near a fire on the I-85 during protests in the early hours of Sept. 21 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The protests followed the fatal shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott by a police officer at an apartment complex near UNC Charlotte. (photo: Sean Rayford / Getty Images News)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Father Patrick Winslow is a priest at a Catholic church in Charlotte’s University City neighborhood.

After a police shooting left a man dead and roused hundreds of people in protest, amid conflicting stories, he has been thinking about what he can say to his flock.

“I think they need to hear a simple message of prayer, of charity and reassurance, that we are called to be a light in the midst of many darknesses in this world,” Father Winslow told CNA.

“If there were a Christian way forward, it would simply be one of drawing closer together and listening and relating, with a sense of vulnerability,” he said.

Father Winslow is pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas parish, which surrounds the main campus of University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

In an apartment complex less than a mile from the church, a police shooting rocked the community.

Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed by police who were looking for another man named in a warrant on Sept. 20.

Scott was a father of seven. His family said that he was unarmed and sitting in his car reading a book as he waited for his son to return from school, CNN reported. A woman reported to be his daughter livestreamed the aftermath of the shooting on the internet, claiming Scott was disabled, didn’t have a gun and was afraid of the officers.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney disputed the account. He said Scott left his car with a gun. He said officers repeatedly told Scott to drop his gun before an officer shot him.

Scott, Chief Putney and the officer who shot Scott are all black.

The police chief said officers could not find a book at the scene of the shooting.

“It’s time to change the narrative, because I can tell you from the facts that the story’s a little bit different as to how it has been portrayed so far, especially through social media,” Chief Putney said.

In reaction to the shooting, hundreds of protesters rallied in Charlotte. Some threw rocks at police and set fires. Some blocked Interstate 85 and set a fire in the middle of the highway, blocking traffic for miles.

Sixteen officers were injured in the protests, Putney said. At least seven people were hospitalized with minor injuries, and five others were arrested.

Protests have continued throughout this week in Charlotte.

The mayor of Charlotte, Jennifer Roberts, has asked faith leaders to work for healing in the community.

At St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Father Winslow planned to speak before the Wednesday evening Mass.

“We’re probably 500 yards from the shooting. This is our neighborhood,” he told CNA.

Father Winslow said he was aware of the different experiences of different people in the neighborhood.

“The African-American community is going to feel different than the university kids across the street, versus all the other different people in the area,” he said.

The priest said he could not make a judgment on the shooting, knowing what is only in the news.

“Obviously I would feel a great deal of compassion for the family who lost someone that they love. I would also feel a great deal of compassion for all of those families who have people in law enforcement who were wounded as a result of the violence last night,” he said.

“I think that many who have not experienced prejudice and bigotry would be surprised by the experience of those who experience it regularly,” the priest continued. “Those who experience it regularly might be surprised that there are many who are not bigoted in their thoughts.”

He said he thought the majority of churchgoers at his diverse parish are not bigoted in their thinking.

Some of his parishioners have experienced acts of racism and bigotry in the wider community, such as a French-speaking black woman who was mistreated because of her skin color.

Father Winslow said he wanted to speak about how painful these experiences are.

He said the community was also surprised how a national narrative about law enforcement and race “collided in our backyard.”

The protests follow months of unrest and tensions in cities across the U.S.

In addition to the incident in Charlotte, a police shooting of Terence Crutcher, a 40-year-old black man in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also prompted protests on Tuesday. A police officer responded to reports of an abandoned SUV.

Video recordings show Crutcher raising his hands before being tasered and fatally shot. However, the camera angle is obstructed in the preceding moments. Police reports indicate that he was unarmed.

Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby is facing first-degree manslaughter charges in relation to the death of Crutcher.

Tulsa Bishop David Konderla responded in a statement, saying, “Today the prayers of the faithful of the Diocese of Tulsa are extended to the families of Terence Crutcher and Officer Betty Shelby. The tragic incident that took place last Friday will forever mark the lives of everyone involved, including our larger community.”

“We offer our deepest and heartfelt condolences to the Crutcher family as they mourn the loss of their loved one.”

“We offer our appreciation to those in our city government and our public-service employees who work hard every day to serve our community,” he continued. “We pray that God would grant wisdom and discernment to all parties involved in the investigation of this sad event. We ask that everyone would join us in praying for continued peace and healing for all people of goodwill in Tulsa and throughout our nation.”

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