The North Texas Conference’s annual gathering got spun in another direction by a video showing a police officer manhandling black youth at a pool party dispute in McKinney, Texas.
The incident happened Friday, June 5. The video went viral over the weekend, just as clergy and laity began to meet at St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Plano, which like McKinney is a suburban city just north of Dallas.
Bishop Michael McKee spoke twice about the incident at the conference. Black clergy held a press conference and prayer gathering outside the McKinney police department immediately after the conference ended Tuesday afternoon.
Some white clergy and laity attended as well, including the Rev. Thomas Brumett, pastor of First United Methodist in McKinney.
By then, the fast-moving story had just taken another turn, with the resignation of the officer, Cpl. Eric Casebolt. McKinney Police Chief Greg Conley described Casebolt's conduct as "indefensible" and "out of control."
“I think (the resignation) is a good first step, but it’s not the end of the story,” said the Rev. Frances Cudjoe Waters, associate pastor of Hamilton Park United Methodist Church and president of the conference’s African American Clergy Fellowship.
Brumett noted that he’s a fan and friend of the McKinney police but joined Waters in calling on city officials to complete a full, transparent investigation of Casebolt’s actions.
“He resigned. That’s a good thing,” Brumett said. “We still need to pursue justice.”
Brumett added that the McKinney incident, the latest in a series of controversies across the country involving apparent police misconduct caught on video, should prompt broad soul-searching.
“Are we systemically healthy as churches, as police departments, as a community?” Brumett said. “This is an opportunity for us to seek justice in all areas.”
By Wednesday, June 10, Casebolt had gone beyond the resignation to offer an apology, delivered by his attorney. She noted that Casebolt had been feeling emotional distress the day of the incident, having worked a suicide and an attempted suicide soon before getting called to the pool party dispute.
Casebolt was among officers called to the police party in Stonebridge, a planned community within McKinney. Accounts of what happened before and after differ, but a bystander’s video captured him pulling his gun on black youth and throwing one black teenage girl to the ground.
“When I saw the video, I thought about my daughter, who is 18,” said the Rev. Michael Bowie Jr., pastor of St. Luke Community United Methodist, a large predominantly African-American church in Dallas. “It just lets us know that we have a lot of work to do in America.”
McKee attended a Tuesday lunch meeting of black clergy in the conference. Later Tuesday, he told the full conference that he had decided this spring, after the Council of Bishops issued a pastoral letter on racism after allegations of police brutality against blacks in Baltimore and elsewhere, that the North Texas Conference must make race relations a focus.
“This is just another reason why,” McKee said of the McKinney incident.
McKee invited Waters, Brumett and the Rev. John McLarty, pastor of Stonebridge United Methodist Church, to address the conference. McLarty’s parishioners include McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller, and both McLarty and Brumett attended an ecumenical prayer meeting with Loughmiller and Conley.
McKee said he was grateful that Brumett, McLarty and black clergy of the conference had come together to respond.
“This is one reason why I love being a United Methodist,” McKee said.
Waters, a law school graduate before turning to ministry, described the video as clearly showing excessive force toward the black youth.
“We, the people of God, want all of God’s children to be treated well,” she said at the press conference.
Waters added that The United Methodist Church, as a large, integrated denomination with a long commitment to racial reconciliation, is well positioned to foster healthful dialog and press for improved policing.
She said she hopes that the North Texas Conference set a positive example.
“We don’t want to have a Baltimore or Ferguson in Dallas.”
Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]