Thousands of Christians participated in a time of prayer and worship before marching in the streets of Atlanta Friday, where they called for an end to racism and urged lawmakers and law enforcers to ensure laws and policies are equitable for all.
The Juneteenth "March on Atlanta" was organized by the OneRace Movement, a Christian coalition that exists to "displace the spirit of racism and release a movement of racial reconciliation across Atlanta, the Southeast, and the nation."
The event began at around 9 a.m. with a time of worship and a rally at Centennial Olympic Park before participants marched down to the Georgia State Capitol building at around 11:30 a.m. and then back to the park for a closing rally.
OneRace Movement co-founder Garland Hunt, the senior pastor of The Father's House Church, told The Christian Post in an interview after the march that as many as 400 churches participated. He said the weather was "perfect" for the rally even though there had been earlier forecasts of rain.
The march was announced just over two weeks ago when the OneRace Movement held a press conference in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery to launch "The OneRace Statement on Righteousness and Justice: A call to end Racial Violence."
"This particular movement has been happening for the last four years. Two years ago, we had an event at Stone Mountain similar to this. With everything that happened, particularly with the Ahmaud Arbery killing and then of George Floyd, we felt that we had to do something now," Hunt said.
"So we hosted a press conference and hundreds of people showed up. We decided that in two weeks, we would pull off a major march. God was with us. We had people from all over the city. There were 400 churches represented and several hundred pastors here. It's just incredible: black, white, Hispanic, Asian. It's just like Heaven, to be honest with you."
Hunt said they were doing "a lot of praying all day."
"We were just praying that God would take a stronghold on racism. We realize that racism, like the COVID-19, is a virus. But it is also a spirit," he said. "We have to pray against that and pray for God to change the hearts and motivations of people. We are coming against racism, but at the same time we are saying, 'Lord, make us one.'"
Hunt said there was a moment during the march in which they prayed over Atlanta's chief of police.
"We told him that we want to support him even though we don't like bad law enforcement," Hunt said. "But overall, they still need our prayers."
Hunt said that the OneRace Movement believes that the Church should "lead the way" as much of the national attention in the last few weeks has focused around calls for racial justice and police reform.
"We are trying to reconcile ourselves together as one and at the same time, coming against racism and any type of profiling of black people," he said. "All of us are standing together with that."
The march comes a week after Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot in Atlanta during an altercation with two police officers after he resisted arrest and seized one of the officer's tasers and tried to fire it at him and another officer. Lawyers for the Brooks family said the fatal police shooting was unnecessary while others contended that it was well within police protocol and considered "lawful but awful."
Hunt said the movement also advocates for additional training for police officers.
"We are definitely for any kind of training that can be done. Anything that can help [reform] the police department or any kind of racist thinking," he said, "[We are for] whatever kind of accountability that can be had. We are not jumping behind any particular legislation. We need to reform things so that if a person does have subjectivity as it relates to race, that they will be accountable for it and that it will be taken care of and not just looked the other way."
Kalfani Ture, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut who served as an Atlanta police officer, told USA Today that the Atlanta Police Department is highly regarded for its training.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the officer who fatally shot Brooks had taken a nine-hour course on de-escalation alternatives in late April.
Hunt said the movement is simply looking for changes to "any kind of racial wrongs in law enforcement." He said that names of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Arbery were mentioned throughout the rally as examples of people "who lost their lives unnecessarily."
The national rallying cry around the police-involved killings of African Americans comes as data show that police have killed more white people than African Americans. However, African Americans represent a disproportionate number of police-involved killings when factoring that they make up only 13% of the U.S. population, and when crime statistics are excluded.
"We lament about anybody who has been killed unnecessarily, no question about it," Hunt said.
"We certainly care about that. But right now, we are lamenting because we see that there seems to be a percentage of blacks that have been on the back end of that and another life has been lost. What this has done is highlighted that in our nation, we still have racial issues that are still problems. We believe that the Church should make a stand. We are not quiet about our rights and racism and racial justice. At the same time, we are doing everything we can do to be united so the world can see the Church walking together and races coming together in the Church."
Hunt said that in the OneRace Movement, they are building relationships between leaders of different races.
"If we are going to do a movement, it has to be real," he said. "A lot of the relationships of the core people in this movement are people that literally do have relationships. We have preached at the other's churches. We have gone into fellowship with each other. We have prayer meetings at each other's churches. Therefore, we feel like we are family. We are not just coming together because of the cause. We are coming together because of relationships."
"All of us feel the same way," he continued. "The white pastors are just as angry and just as determined to speak out against racism as the black folks are. In fact, it might be even more so. It is a great thing to see that the Church can lead by example. If the pastor leads in reconciliation, then the people will follow."
Hunt believes that God is "bringing to our attention that we still have a lot of work to do."
"The Ahmaud Arberys and what we've seen certainly with George Floyd, it has let us know that we have a lot of work to do," he stressed. "It does motivate us to be more active and public with everything that we do."