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Churches plan prayer service, call for unity

Local churches are asking the community to join together with them for a prayer service Saturday partially in response to the investigation of the Troy Police Department’s use of force against a juvenile.

The prayer service is a continuation of the CommUNITY event series that began last summer after the fatal shootings of two black men by police in Minnesota and Louisiana and the massacre of five police officers in Texas in retaliatation.

“Those initial instances were the impetus,” said Anthony Askew, pastor of New Life Christian Church in Troy. “We’ve been meeting for a year and a half to gain insight and wisdom on how to navigate through these waters. At that time it had not reached the borders of our city. Now it’s in our borders and we’re facing similar things. We need to begin to pray for answers and healing before momentum goes in the wrong way.”

The issue came within Troy’s borders late in the night of Saturday, Dec. 23 when 17-year-old Ulysses KeAndre Wilkerson was beaten by TPD officers during an arrest. Police say they saw Wilkerson emerge from behind a closed building and attempted to make contact with him but he fled, leading to a chase that ended in the use of physical force and Wilkerson’s arrest on misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and obstruction of governmental operations.

Now, many people in the community are seeking answers, not just about what happened, but how to respond.

“If we are spiritual guides, we must be ones who would help to give answers, not from ourselves, but from God,” Askew said. “We need answers for our community. We pray that our hearts may be softened and that we would have unity within our community.”

Michael Alsup, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Troy, said a commitment to Christ can bridge the divide that situations like this create.

“I want to make sure that our commitment to Christ is greater than all these barriers,” Alsup said. “We want to make sure this won’t tear our community apart. I would just ask all people of faith to come out on Saturday morning so we can pray to the Lord together. I think the Lord can use this to do really good things in the midst of a sad situation.”

Alsup said prayer is necessary as people of the community wait for more definitive answers about what happened that night.

“I don’t think you can overestimate the power of prayer in a situation like this where there’s just a lot of misunderstanding going on,” Alsup said. “I don’t know that any of us know what has really transpired and we won’t know until after we get word back after the investigation. That leaves a lot of time for people to speculate and come to conclusions that aren’t necessarily true.”

First Baptist Church Pastor Luke Lane said the people of the community need to be praying for elected officials to make the right decisions.

The prayer service will begin at 9 a.m. at First United Methodist Church and is open to all.