- Despite orders against large social gatherings, some churches in places like Florida, Louisiana, and Ohio have continued to host mass services for hundreds of worshipers.
- One Florida church leader said his members were practicing “social distancing, or whatever,” despite live video of them clearly not.
- He also told churchgoers that they were more likely to contract the virus elsewhere, not in church, and has peddled misinformation about the virus.
- Meanwhile, a Louisiana preacher has said the coronavirus is “not a concern” and is “politically motivated.”
17% of Churchgoers Still Attend, Poll Says
While schools and businesses all over the world have closed their doors to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, many churchgoers have continued to attend services in person.
Some houses of worship, from the Vatican to storefront mosques, have switched to virtual gatherings, but according to a Buzzfeed poll conducted last week by three political scientists, 22% of respondents said they had been “encouraged” to attend in-person worship “because of the virus.” The study also found that 17% of respondents were actually still going.
The survey polled 1,038 people from all over the country, who said they attend a house of worship “more often than never.” It’s not exactly known if the 17% of people still attending services are meeting in smaller worship settings that follow the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations, but based on some recent reports, it’s clear that there are still hundreds of worshipers ignoring social distancing guidelines.
Last week, nearly three dozen people who attended a church event at First Assemblies of God Church in Greers Ferry, Arkansas, tested positive for COVID-19. Of the 34 who tested positive, 31 are either church staff or members of the church.
On Friday, a church in Chicago said 43 people reported symptoms related to the virus after a church service on March 15. At least 10 of those people thave tested positive for the virus so far.
Hundreds Gather in Louisiana
While President Donald Trump has recommended against gatherings of more than 10 people, many states have laid out their own specific social distancing rules. Still, some are choosing to deliberately defy them.
Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana is one preacher in particular who has made headlines for hosting mass gatherings. On March 17, he went against Gov. Jon Bel Edwards’ order that banned groups larger than 50 from gathering at one time, including churches.
Spell hosted a Tuesday service for around 300 people, arguing at the time that the virus was “not a concern,” and adding that he believes it is “politically motivated.”
“People are still going to work, still going to the mall. I encountered more people in Target today then I did during my service last night,” he later told CNN. “It’s persecution of the faith for me not to have my worship service and yet I am allowed to go out in public and shop. Why is there one standard for commerce and another for religion?”
He also boasted about gathering a larger crowd of nearly 1,200 the Sunday before, adding that he had 27 busses picking people up. His services have reportedly continued as normal, with Spell even hosting baptisms and laying hands to heal the sick.
Once the media began reporting on Spell’s services, he said several church members were suspended from work after employers feared they would spread the virus. Yet still, this past Sunday over 550 people packed themselves inside the church.
According to the Associated Press, assistant ministers and other churchgoers stood outside the front doors and in the parking lot telling reporters to leave. They said cameras would not be allowed on the property and that they had been told not to talk to the media.
Spell later appeared and made a brief comment in the parking lot, saying they have a right to assemble. He also said the church is not forcing anyone to attend, is not breaking any laws, and will continue to hold services.
Spell has faced some backlash from people in the community, with some even signing a petition calling for him to be arrested and charged with reckless endangerment.
However, Spell isn’t the only one in Louisiana hosting church-related gatherings. On Saturday, police in New Orleans broke up a funeral repast of about 100 people. Police issued a warrant for a 28-year-old man who refused to shut it down after he was asked. The leader of the band that was playing during the gathering was also issued a summons for his participation.
“People who violate the ban are being selfish and “grossly irresponsible,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Sunday afternoon in New Orleans. They “take the time and attention of first responders and make it much more likely that this disease will continue to spread,” he said
Florida and Ohio
In Florida, The River at Tampa Bay Church held a Sunday service live stream, which showed worshipers gathered close together. Still, Rev. Rodney Howard-Browne said attendees were practicing “social distancing, or whatever.”
“We are not a nonessential service,” Howard-Browne said during the service. “You’re probably going to get infected at some other place, not here.”
He also condemned scientific reports about the virus and peddled the debunked idea that this pandemic was of less concern than the flu.
The church said in a statement on its web site that it felt it was important to remain open for people in need of comfort, saying it is sanitizing and cleaning all surfaces.
“In a time of national crisis, we expect certain institutions to be open and certain people to be on duty. We expect hospitals to have their doors open 24/7 to receive and treat patients. We expect our police and firefighters to be ready and available to rescue and to help and to keep the peace. The Church is another one of those essential services. It is a place where people turn for help and for comfort in a climate of fear and uncertainty,” the church said in the statement.
Meanwhile, Solid Rock Church in Lebanon, Ohio also held services Sunday in defiance of a letter from the local health department urging it not to meet after community complaints, according to a local news report. The church, in a statement, cited its First Amendment right to religious assembly.
Religious gatherings were explicitly exempted by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s order against gatherings of more than 10 people. However, DeWine also tweeted a plea to religious leaders last week saying, “We did not order religious organizations to close, but my message to EVERYONE is that this is serious. When you are coming together, whether in a church or wherever – this is dangerous.”
But Americans aren’t the only ones continuing to attend in-person worship services. Sunday services were held at some of Russia’s largest religious sites after Orthodox church leaders said they were an expression of religious freedom.
According to the Guardian, dozens of parishioners, many of them elderly, crowded into Kazan Cathedral in St Petersburg to receive communion. However, later in the day, the church’s leader, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, called on people to refrain from visiting churches.
In Romania and Georgia, two countries with strongly Orthodox Christian populations, some priests have insisted on continuing to use a shared spoon for the communion ritual.
Last Sunday, the day after Romania had been put into a strict lockdown, footage emerged from the city of Cluj of priests using a shared spoon. In Georgia, while the church has told people not to spend long periods of time in churches and not to come if sick, it has rejected calls to abandon the reusing of spoons. Instead, it claimed that as communion is a holy ceremony it is not possible to get ill during it.
Bodycam Footage Shows Adam Toledo Wasn’t Holding Gun When an Officer Shot Him
- Chicago officials released body camera footage Thursday which showed that 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by police last month, had put his hands up in the air right before the officer opened fire.
- The graphic video showed the officer, who has now been identified as Eric Stillman, yelling at Adam to stop as he chases him through an alley.
- The teenager obeyed and stopped by a fence, where he can be seen holding what appears to be a gun behind his back. Stillman ordered him to drop it, and then shot him a split second after Adam raised his empty hands in the air.
- The footage prompted renewed outrage, protests, and calls for an investigation. A lawyer for the Toledo family called the killing “an assassination,” while Stillman’s lawyer defended the officer, and claimed he acted appropriately.
Officer Bodycam Footage Made Public
Body camera footage released by Chicago officials Thursday showed that Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy killed by police last month, had his hands up when he was fatally shot.
The footage, which was released as part of a report by the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), showed officers chasing Adam, who was Latino, through an alley in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Little Village during the early hours of March 29.
The officer ordered Adam to stop. The teenager complied and halted by the side of a fence, holding what looks like a gun in one of his hands behind his back. The policeman yelled at him to drop it and show his hands.
Adam turned and lifted his empty hands, and the officer fired his weapon, striking the teenager once in the chest. The policeman is then seen administering CPR and asking him, “You alright? Where you shot?” while blood poured out of his mouth.
The COPA report published Thursday also identified the officer who shot Adam as 34-year-old Eric Stillman, who is white, and whose lawyer said he had been put on administrative duties for 30 days.
Stillman’s lawyer also argued that the shooting was justified, as did John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
“He was 100% right,” Catanzara said. “The offender still turned with a gun in his hand. This occurred in eight-tenths of a second.”
Renewed Backlash and Protests
Adeena Weiss Ortiz, an attorney obtained by Adam’s family, said they are looking into taking legal action against Stillman.
“If you’re shooting an unarmed child with his arms in the air, it’s an assassination,” she said at a news conference Thursday.
Ortiz acknowledged the bodycam footage did appear to show Adam holding something that “could be a gun,” but argued the video must be independently analyzed to confirm.
“It’s not relevant because he tossed the gun,” she said. “If he had a gun, he tossed it.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also echoed Ortiz’s demands on Thursday, calling for a “complete and transparent” investigation.
“The video released today shows that police shot Adam Toledo even though his hands were raised in the air,” said Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois.
“The people of Chicago deserve answers about the events surrounding this tragic interaction. The anger and frustration expressed by many in viewing the video is understandable and cannot be ignored.”
Hours before the video was released, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pleaded for calm in the city, where anti-police protests have taken place in the weeks following the shooting.
“We must proceed with deep empathy and calm and importantly, peace,” she said. “No family should ever have a video broadcast widely of their child’s last moments, much less be placed in the terrible situation of losing their child in the first place.”
Some businesses in downtown Chicago boarded prepared for violence ahead of the video’s publication by boarding up their windows. City vehicles stood by to block traffic.
However, the demonstrations that took place Thursday were small, peaceful, and spread out over several parts of the city. Organizers said they plan to hold more protests Friday.
See what others are saying: (The Chicago Sun-Times) (The New York Times) (The Chicago Tribune)
Eight Dead in Indianapolis Shooting
- Eight people were killed and several more were injured after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
- The gunman took his life after opening fire. Authorities have not identified his motive yet.
- According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2021, there have been 147 U.S. mass shootings, defined as verified incidents with four or more gunshot victims.
- President Joe Biden released a statement calling gun violence “an epidemic in America,” adding, “We should not accept it. We must act.”
Eight Killed in Shooting
Eight people were killed and several others have been wounded after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
The gunman killed four people in the parking lot then four people inside before taking his own life, according to local officials. Authorities have identified the gunman and are searching his home, but have not disclosed any potential motives.
“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” Deputy Chief Craig McCartt of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said during a press conference. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”
Several witnesses told local outlets they initially thought the gunshots were engines backfiring or another type of mechanical noise until they saw the gunman. Some said they heard him shouting indistinctly before opening fire. The investigation is still in very early stages and victims have not yet been identified.
The facility employs 4,500 team members. It is unclear how many were working at the time of the shooting. FedEx released a statement expressing its condolences to the victims and their families.
“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of our team members following the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis,” the statement read. “Our most heartfelt sympathies are with all those affected by this senseless act of violence. The safety of our team members is our top priority, and we are fully cooperating with investigating authorities.”
Gun Violence in the U.S.
This tragedy follows a recent string of mass shootings in the U.S., including in Atlanta, Colorado, Southern California, and Texas. According to the Associated Press, this is at least the third in Indianapolis this year.
The Gun Violence Archive has logged a total of 147 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2021. The organization defines mass shootings as reported and verified incidents with at least four gunshot victims.
Several politicians have released statements about the shooting, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who said this pattern “must end.”
“Yet again we have families in our country that are grieving the loss of their family members because of gun violence,” she said. “There is no question that this violence must end, and we are thinking of the families that lost their loved ones.”
President Joe Biden also released a statement saying that, “Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation.”
“Gun violence is an epidemic in America,” Biden added. “But we should not accept it. We must act.”
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett echoed those remarks in a news conference.
“The scourge of gun violence that has killed far too many in our community and in our country,” he said.
“Our prayers are with the families of those whose lives were cut short,” he added on Twitter.
Hogsett is among 150 U.S. mayors who recently signed a letter asking the Senate to take up gun legislation, including expanding background checks.
Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murders or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.
Soldier Charged With Assault After Shoving Black Man in Viral Video
- Authorities charged Army soldier Jonathan Pentland with third-degree assault and battery on Wednesday after a viral video showed him shoving a Black man while yelling at him to leave a South Carolina neighborhood.
- Many people, including dozens who protested outside Pentland’s home this week, condemned the confrontation as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”
- Pentland and others claimed the unidentified man was picking a fight with neighbors, which the man denied, but police said nothing that may have happened earlier justified Pentland’s actions.
- If convicted, Pentland faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.
A U.S. soldier was charged with assault on Wednesday after a video that circulated online showed him yelling at and shoving a Black man in a South Carolina neighborhood.
Footage of the April 8 incident was posted to social media Monday. It shows the Army soldier, Jonathan Pentland, confronting the unidentified man and telling him to leave the neighborhood.
The other man explains that he’s just walking through the area and doing nothing wrong, but Pentland becomes increasingly aggressive. “You better walk away,” he shouts at the man after shoving him.
“You either walk away, or I’m gonna carry your ass out of here,” he continues before adding, “You’re in the wrong neighborhood motherf*ker. Get out!”
The man then tries to tell Pentland that he lives in the neighborhood, and Pentland then asks for his address, which he does not give.
The confrontation continues with Pentland cursing and getting in the man’s face. As he does so, the man says that Pentland smells drunk.
It’s unclear what exactly led up to the confrontation, but in the video, a woman off-camera says the man “picked a fight with some random young lady that’s one of our neighbors.”
“I don’t even know who she is. Nobody picked a fight when someone ran up on me,” the man replies. Another woman off-screen then encourages the man to leave with her, saying, “What’s your name? Come on. You don’t want no trouble.”
Video Triggers Protests Outside Pentland’s Home
After this video spread online, many social media users condemned it as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”
In fact, protesters even began demonstrating outside of Penland’s home. Those protests started off peaceful, but deputies were then called after 8 p.m. because unknown individuals vandalized the house. That forced police to shut down access to the area and remove Pentland’s family to another location.
As far as the viral video, deputies were told that the man approached “several neighbors in a threatening manner” and that someone had asked Pentland to “intervene.”
Police did confirm that there are two reports of alleged assault against the unnamed man Pentland shoved that are being investigated. However, they also added that the man has “an underlying medical condition that may explain the behavior exhibited in the alleged incidents.”
Either way, police said whatever happened earlier did not justify Pentland’s actions. He was ultimately arrested Wednesday morning and was charged with third-degree assault and battery. He faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail if convicted.
“We’re not going to let people be bullies in our community,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said at a news conference Wednesday. “And if you are, you’re going to answer for it, and that’s what we’ve done in this case.”
On top of that, the Justice Department reportedly was investigating. Pentland’s Commanding General even issued a statement condemning his behavior, adding that Pentland “brought disrespect to @fortjackson our Army and the trust with the public we serve.”