Officials and citizens gathered at noon Tuesday on the downtown square to pray for the city and the nation as protests reverberate across the country following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.
Smith County Commissioner JoAnn Hampton, who organized the vigil, said: “We are here because of what happened in Minneapolis after the killing of George Floyd. We came together as a community because we want people to know that Tyler stands together.
“We stand for solidarity. We did not have the heart to watch what happened on that TV and not come together and pray for that family and the nation for healing,” she continued. “This is what its all about, people coming together, black and white sitting down and talking about those issues and resolving those issues. This community is united for a common goal.”
One of the speakers, the Rev. Orenthia Mason, noted that some protesters have resorted to violence and prayed for peace and unity.
“Don’t feel sorry for me. Like we said in the ‘60s, I am black and I am proud,” said Mason. “I am proud of the city of Tyler. … Don’t let anybody come in here from the outside and destroy our city. They don’t know what we’ve been through to be where we are today. I’m afraid of what I see now. I lived in the ‘60s. This is scary. I am not going back to where we used to be, God has brought us too far to leave us, so to all of my brothers and sisters of all races, colors religions, and political groups, we are all one in the spirit and in the Lord.“
Mason challenged people to “speak up against violence. Speak up against racism. Speak up. Lead the way in doing what is right.”
Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran and Tyler Mayor Martin Heines also spoke.
“In the beginning God said let us make man in our image,” said Moran. “As you look around today there is this great picture of the colors sizes and differences between each of us, each of us is made in God’s image. Each of us has equal and eternal value. Never forget or forgo that value. Racism at its core is not a political issue it’s a sin issue, an issue of the heart. … I want to ask for spiritual revival in this town so that we will see peace and unity moving forward.”
Heines challenged the city to live up to its responsibilities.
“We have a responsibility to acknowledge hurt and anguish of decades of prejudice. We have a responsibility to denounce injustice in all of its forms and wherever it exists we have a responsibility to listen to our neighbors when they come to us hurting. … Nelson Mandela said no one is born hating another person for the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they learn to hate they can be taught to love,” he said.
Hampton called District Attorney Jacob Putman, Sheriff Larry Smith and Police Chief Jimmy Toler to speak as representatives of local law enforcement.
Putman praised the community for being different from areas that have been divided by events.
“One thing that makes me proud to be the DA is what I see I front of me right now that so many parts of the county don’t have. You’re listening, which so many people fail to do,” he said.
Smith shared a song that came to mind that he said he learned at church when he was a child.
“Red and yellow black and white we are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world,” he said.
Toler said Tyler is a community of love.
“It’s (Tyler) a community of love. The police officers love you and they love Tyler, Texas,” he said.
Among those in attendance was Jerrilyn Miner. Miner has lived in Tyler for 13 years. She said that she is proud to live in a city that can unite during conflict.
“I am so proud to live in a city that can unite together and there not be violence like we’ve seen. There have been a bunch of riots in other cities. We were able to come together peacefully and pray. Much prayer much power is something I was born and raised hearing in places of worship I’ve been attending throughout my life. I hate that a life had to be lost for people to come together and I just pray that we continue to come together as a human race not just when someone is hurt, no matter what race,” she said.
Local law enforcement agent Willie Mims expressed his perspective as a member of the police force.
“I wish more were like us. I wish surrounding agencies could be just like us. This shouldn’t be going all over the world like it is. We should be able to have peaceful protests for the cause. Violence is not the key to anything, it only entices things and makes things worse. We need to all come together,” he said.
Hampton said she felt the vigil represented a turning point.
“We are going to be more loving with one another we all have some issues that we need to talk about,“ she said.