As police in Brooklyn hunted for a deranged gunman who shot and killed a church caretaker in the sanctuary on Monday, outraged community leaders held a rally Tuesday afternoon at the site, demanding better law enforcement protection and officials to take action against the surging gun violence.
The vigil, organized by the United Clergy Coalition and joined by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, comes as the NYPD comes under the microscope for an 88% increase in shootings so far in 2020.
Stunned leaders viewed the vestibule of the Glorious Church of God in Christ on Halsey Street in Bedford Stuyvesant, where a trail of blood was still present from caretaker James ‘Swayne’ Edwards, 62, of Jefferson Street who tried to flee to the second floor from the shooter.
Church leaders say Edwards was attempting to keep a man from coming into the building; the individual had been banned after becoming violent with members the congregation.
Chief of Patrol Borough Brooklyn North Judith Harrison told the angry crowd of clergy and local leaders Tuesday that they know who the shooter is, and are hunting him as they spoke at the church. The crowd included the victim’s son, Swayne Jr., and the victim’s sister, Veronica Loomis.
But others in the crowd were nervous as the armed suspect still lurked in the community.
Some of the harshest criticism came from Adams, who said “this would never happen in another community,” likening the ongoing shootings to “terrorism.”
“There have been over a thousand shootings in the city, over 600 since June, but you have yet to see a full [police] deployment coming from the city in response to that,” said Adams. “Terror is terror and our community is living in terror. Only since yesterday did we hear that we would have additional resources in overtime. When you do a mapping of where the shootings have occurred, you will see they are in predominantly Black and Brown communities.”
Adams feared that the city has “normalized having 1-year-olds shot, 60-year-old women shot – we’ve normalized it to the extent that we’ve normalized shootings at houses of worship – that is what the anger is.”
“Every night I’m hearing this, but I’m baffled that I am not hearing a level of urgency that we are dealing with a crisis,” Adams ripped. “I am outraged at the comfort we appear to have on the citywide, state and national levels – where is the urgency. I call on the city of NY to come up with a comprehensive plan to combat this violence – it’s more than just overtime, the same way you deploy resources when there is a terrorist act, is the way you must do it here.”
Activist Tony Herbert, community outreach coordinator for the United Clergy Coalition, called on elected officials to make possession of a firearm a minimum 10-year sentence in prison.
“If we don’t get to the root of the problem of those who have guns in their hands – it’s great to talk about all this legislation going out to the gun dealers all up and down the East Coast, but we have to send a message to those that have guns already,” Herbert said. “You are not allowed to set guns off in our community, so there has to be some punitive damages here, and telling them they are facing 2-3 years is not enough. And the UCC stands behind the thought process that we want 10-year mandatory minimums for those who possess illegal firearms in our community.”
Bishop Joel Seabrooks asked that the assailant turn himself in to face justice.
“We are seeing systematic racism – if this happened in an Italian community, Jewish community, a Polish community – if a dog was shot there, there would be an outrage. Yet when we look out in our streets, law enforcement is missing,” he said. “They are driving around in cars, but we don’t see cops standing on our corners protecting the community. I’m asking all pastors to come out of your churches – let’s begin to take our rightful place to bring truth to power. We are tired, fed up, and we will hold people accountable that are in office when these tragedies happen in our community.”
Bishop David Lindsay, pastor of the beleaguered church, mourned for the man who was murdered. He said James was taken off the streets, suffering alcoholism and homelessness – but was redeemed by the church and given a job that he cherished. He called him a “good man of faith.”
“Everybody loved him and he would pet every dog that came by,” Lindsay recalled.
But Lindsay also recalled the suspect, saying, “We had a young man here, he was homeless, he’d wash. He was living in his car. He started getting belligerent with some of the people and I told him you can act like that here and if you are, you’ll have to take your stuff out and we’ll give you three months and we’ll be fine. He came back yesterday and I guess he tried to get in, but Swayne wouldn’t let him in and this is what happened.”
James’ son Swayne mourned his loss, saying “I’m shocked that he would be killed in a place that he loved.”
“He was a loving father and the people here all loved him,” Swayne Jr. said of his father. “He would do anything for anybody – I don’t know why anyone would do this to him.”
Deacon Nathaniel Lindsay, first cousin to the Bishop, befriended James and would see him every day and he “loved this church.”
“I had just left here and told him I would be back, but we had a little situation and I wasn’t here to help him,” Lindsay sighed. “The guy that killed him, we didn’t want him in the church and he had to get his clothes in the back. Swayne was doing security and that’s when this happened – he shot him in the back four times.”
Only moments after the vigil ended, a 31-year-old man was shot once in the lower torso by an unknown gunman.