A North Dallas church wants its neighborhood to believe Black Lives Matter

Dallas News

George Floyd. Botham Jean. Ahmaud Arbery.

Their names appear out of the darkness, flashing onto Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas. The nightly display is meant to show it’s time to address racism and police brutality — that “Black Lives Matter,” said the North Dallas church’s senior minister, Marti Soper.

Soper said the display of about 40 Black men and women who were killed by police or other violence will be up for the foreseeable future. She said she hopes people realize the names represent only a small number of those who have been killed.

Each night, Stan Broome turns on the projector outside the church and watches as the names flash onto the building, followed by “Say their names,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Jesus Weeps.”

Stan Broome sets up equipment for nightly projections on the front of Northaven United Methodist Church on Thursday, June 18, 2020, in Dallas. The church is projecting the names of people who have been killed by police or white violence along with messages such as “Jesus Weeps,” Say Their Names” and “Black Lives Matter.”(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

Broome sat outside in a lawn chair on a recent night as he watched the names rise. Then, L.V. Daniels’ name flashed onto the church.

Nearly 15 years ago, Daniels was killed by a Dallas police officer who was driving about 60 mph in a South Dallas residential neighborhood. The officer’s car struck Daniels while he was crossing the street in front of a stopped car, The Dallas Morning News reported at the time.

In 2005, the family sued Officer Kent Wolverton and the city of Dallas for damages. Broome was his family’s attorney and said he remains close to them.

Stan Broome sets up equipment for nightly projections on the front of Northaven United Methodist Church on Thursday, June 18, 2020, in Dallas. (Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

A judge found the officer didn’t turn on his emergency lights or sirens while speeding to a nonemergency call. But the judge recommended the case not go forward, in part because the officer had qualified immunity, which can protect police officers and other officials from lawsuits.

Broome said he took L.V. Daniels’ case to the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to change the legal standard for qualified immunity. But the case was rejected. Now, he said, the national conversation about police brutality has brought qualified immunity back into the spotlight.

Prompting change

Broome said most people who drive by the church are supportive of the messages that are projected on the building. Some honk and stick their fist out the car window in solidarity. Others yell “white lives matter” and “all lives matter” as they drive by or while waiting at stoplight at Northaven and Preston Road. Those words, he said, are vile.

“When I first decided to sit out with it, the idea was simply to make sure that the equipment worked,” Broome said. “But as I sat there for hours watching it scroll, it became a very emotional experience.”

He said one night a Black woman stopped to sit with the group and talked about her own experiences dealing with racism.

“It was difficult to sit there and listen to her frustration and her desire to see change in the world but not really know how to attack the problem,” Broome said.

He said the group was hopeful that this movement might create real change.

“It turned out to be a place where we can all talk about one thing that we normally are afraid to talk about and that’s the impact of racism on our country and our inability generation after generation, after generation to fix that problem,” Broome said.

Soper said white people can lack concern for the violence Black people face. The majority of the congregation at the church is white, she said, and it reflects the demographics of the area.

A banner reading “Jesus weeps: bearing the names of Black people killed by police or other violence is seen in front of projections on the front of Northaven United Methodist Church on Thursday, June 18, 2020, in North Dallas.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

Soper said she was enraged before the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck. Arbery was allegedly killed by white men in Georgia, and Botham Jean was slain in Dallas by an off-duty white police officer who was still in uniform. The cases are pending in the deaths of Floyd and Arbery, but Jean’s killer was convicted of murder and is in a Texas prison.

“Both of those incidents and others find their ways into sermons that I preach about, our need to repent of our participation in these racist systems that allow this to happen,” Soper said. “We need to understand that it actually does happen and it’s real.”

Soper said the church has a history of being progressive — advocating for LGBTQ rights and immigration reform. She said in the ’60s, one pastor from the church received bomb threats after giving a sermon that said Dallas needed to address its sin of racism.

Now the church has put up a rainbow flag covering the words “United Methodist” in its sign to show that it is a “particular kind of United Methodist,” she said.

Soper said several members showed up to a small protest in front of the church in their cars. She said some of them had been protesting together for 70 years. Soper’s husband, the Rev. Jack Soper, said he was a pastor for 42 years and he also protested.

“If social justice is going to be the focal point of the church, then it has to include racism,” Jack Soper said.

Marti Soper said the majority of the congregation at Northaven would’ve joined the recent protests, but many are too old to participate safely because of the coronavirus pandemic. She said they were “champing at the bit” to join, and the display was one way to do that.

“We are all part of what’s happening, and we all have a voice that we can use to advocate and to use whatever gifts God has given us to do that,” she said. “And if we can’t march downtown anymore, then we find a different way to use our voice.”

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