Sheron Patterson’s role as senior pastor at Hamilton Park United Methodist Church often has her counseling victims of PTSD. Some are war veterans, some are crime victims and some have had traumatic encounters with police. One Black parishioner was driving to work with her young daughter when officers, guns drawn, pulled them over, handcuffed them and tossed them into the back of a squad car. It turned out the cops were seeking a Hispanic man and woman. Weeks later, the family remains fearful and anxious.
Patterson, reared in the heart of the South by a police officer dad and schoolteacher mom, has seen incidents like this in her community before. Over Mother’s Day weekend, she created an online petition on behalf of moms all over the city calling for Mayor Eric Johnson and Police Chief Eddie Garcia to institute reforms. The petition calls for police to stop shooting unarmed persons, de-escalate interactions with citizens, employ social workers to assist with mentally ill and unsheltered persons and limit the use of militarized weapons, among other mandates. It calls for the city to invest in low-income communities, expand community oversight, end unqualified immunity and become transparent with excessive force complaints.
“Now is the time to move forward,” says Patterson. “I gathered a group of interracial moms, and we targeted Mother’s Day because we wanted to stand in solidarity with all the mothers who have lost sons and daughters. Mothers are powerful and strong. We are the givers of life, and I want us to be the protectors of life, as well.”
In the 1950s and 60s, police departments were recruiting officers of color into Black communities. Patterson’s dad took a job in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Back in those days, it was a big deal to be a police officer in the Black community. My dad was a celebrity. Everybody knew Bill Covington, and everybody knew me because I was his daughter. It was a good life. He never fired his gun in 30 years. The people loved him, and he loved them. He was more of a social worker – he knew the troubled kids. There was crime, but the community was cohesive.
“After he retired, there was an escalation of violence and police brutality, and he would always tell me, ‘It doesn’t take all of that.’ If you want to shoot somebody, how about one time, not 14 times.”
HPUMC has continued to minister to its parishioners despite the challenges of the pandemic. Worship and praise have continued online, and meals have been served to those in need. Patterson believes seeking justice is part of her mission.
“This is God’s work. God cares about the downtrodden and the mistreated. It’s all through the Bible. It’s no coincidence that I preached in Exodus two Sundays ago about Moses setting the captives free, and the Egyptians were the oppressors to the children of Israel. The Egyptians whipped and beat the children of Israel. The pharaoh hated them, and his hate trickled down to his soldiers – the police force – who beat them. It also trickled down to the citizenry who, like the Karens of today, felt they could mistreat the people around them.”
Patterson wasn’t expecting a guilty verdict in the George Floyd trial, but she believes justice prevailed.
“We survived, give God praise. The same God who brought me through the past will cover me and keep me going. The Bible says we walk by faith and not by sight, so I can’t worry about what I see or how ugly it is. I’ve got to keep walking and have faith in God to pull me through. When God called me to the ministry, that said God would order my steps and my stops. God will put a hedge of protection around me, and I operate in the anointing of the Lord. My favorite Bible verse is Psalm 27, ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?’ God gives me a fearlessness – it is not of me, it is of the Holy Spirit.”