ROCKFORD (NNPA) - When asked what brought him to the Kingdom Authority Church in Rockford, Illinois on October 3, Bernard Clay only had one word: "Injustice."
He added, "It's that simple," said Clay.
The Chicago native made the two-hour trip to participate in the NAACP "Justice for All" Rally, which called for federal standards for police use of force and an independent investigation into a police shooting of an unarmed man at the church. The event was in conjunction with the NAACP's "I Am Human" campaign, which encourages human rights for all Americans and was in coalition with Rainbow Push, Amnesty International, among others.
The rally stemmed from the August shooting of Mark Barmore in the basement of the Kingdom Authority Church. According to witnesses, Barmore, who was wanted for questioning by police regarding a domestic dispute, was pursued by Officers Oda Poole and Stan North into the church. After emerging from a storage room with his hands up and head down, officers shot the 23- year old man twice in the neck and three times in the back, as pre-school children looked on.
The rally called for national standards for police use of force, an independent investigation into the Barmore case, a civilian review board with subpoena power and counseling for the children who witnessed the shooting. Many of the children are now experiencing symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome but have yet to receive any help.
Details surrounding the shooting have disturbed many leaders in the Rockford community who believe the officers' use of deadly violence was excessive. The police officers involved have a record of shooting unarmed men. Officer Poole killed an elderly Black man outside a retail store a few years ago whom he claimed had a weapon. No weapon was found but the killing was ruled justifiable.
"When it gets bad enough where someone can run into a church, a place of safety and sanctuary, and be killed in front of children and teachers, we need our senators, our mayors, and our governors in each state to take a look at what is going on in the police departments, and start dealing with it," said Apostle Melvin Brown of Kingdom Authority, whose wife and daughter witnessed the shooting.
The rally attracted a diverse crowd of several hundred Black and White Rockford and statewide residents. Actor Nate Parker, most notably of the movie "The Great Debaters," cited his own background as reasons for his support at the rally.
"I'm no different than (Barmore). I'm from Norfolk, Virginia – this could have been me," said Parker. "We have to do something now."
According to Department of Justice figures, national incidents of police use of violence and deadly force have increased since the late 1990s. NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous addressed the rally calling for federally mandated law enforcement standards, community involvement, and unity. Currently each state and local jurisdiction can set its own standards for use of force, training and accountability.
"Every generation has its own dragon to slay," said Jealous. "The 'tough on crime' mindset that empowers an individual to stand in this church – a daycare center, no less – and shoot an unarmed man is what fuels that dragon."
Jealous also explained the significance of the Barmore case in NAACP's "I Am Human" campaign.
"We want the police to know that they are human too," said Jealous. "We are all human, and we must treat each other like human beings."
Arriving in Rockford after attending the funeral of Derrion Albert, a 16 year-old beaten to death by peers in Chicago, Jealous' message to "stop the funerals" was met with cheers while listeners waved NAACP signs bearing the same message. As residents anxiously await justice in the Barmore case, Jealous expressed hope for the city of Rockford.
"I know there are better days ahead for Rockford," said Jealous. "I know there are better days ahead for this country, and the way we get there is the same. We come together, we commit to a better day for our children, and we keep coming together until we win."
Curtis Johnson is a writer on the staff of the national headquarters of the NAACP.