on December 13, 2014 at 7:03 AM, updated December 13, 2014 at 7:11 AM
MUSKEGON, MI – Several Muskegon-area churches affiliated with a large Protestant denomination will participate in "Black Lives Matter Sunday" on Dec. 14 in response to the recent deaths of black citizens who died under problematic circumstances.
The Church of God in Christ, also known as COGIC, called for its congregation members to participate in the event earlier this month to show the global community that the lives of African-American citizens are important, too.
The church, based in Memphis, Tenn., encourages pastors and church members to wear black and hold a day of prayer on the second Sunday of December, specifically in response to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the subsequent lack of indictments of the police officers who killed them.
In an official statement, COGIC Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr., said he was saddened the Staten Island Grand Jury chose not to indict New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo. The cop placed Garner in a chokehold even though the act was illegal and the father said he could not breathe.
Blake said the decision, coupled with the lack of indictment in the Ferguson, Mo., case involving Michael Brown, "takes us back years in the struggle for equal justice."
Brown was an unarmed black teenager who was shot dead in the St. Louis-area community by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. Witness accounts differ, though many believe Brown surrendered and had his hands up before his death. The decision of the Grand Jury presiding over the case has triggered rallies, "die-ins," and civil unrest across the nation.
Several congressional aides and lawmakers protested the deaths on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday and many acts of dissent continue.
Mt. Zion Church of God In Christ Pastor Duane Bennett said the Muskegon area has nine COGIC congregations. They include Mt. Zion, Holy Trinity Institutional Church Of God In Christ and Fresh Anointing Church of God In Christ.
Bennett said he is still preparing his sermon but plans to evoke the names of the slain males.
"It's an issue we all need to recognize. It's not a 'black versus white' issue, but it is an issue and we need to address that," Bennett said. "Each individual church will address the issues as they wish."
Church services at Mt. Zion, located at 188 W. Muskegon Avenue in downtown Muskegon, include an intercessory prayer at 8:30 a.m., Sunday School at 9 a.m., Alternative Sunday School at 9:15 a.m. and a morning celebration service at 10:30 a.m.
Bennett said he was also concerned about the death of Tamir Rice and said the church will remember the child on Sunday. A Cleveland police officer fatally shot the 12-year-old after confusing the child's toy gun with a real firearm.
The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office ruled Rice's death as a homicide Friday, Dec. 12.
The phrase "Black Lives Matter" continues to appear on rally protest signs and posts published on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.
Many are using the phrase to encourage their peers to think about black women and girls who were also murdered under questionable or illegal circumstances. They include 19-year-old Renisha McBride and 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones.
Detroit Police Officer Joseph Weekley killed Aiyana during a raid in 2010. The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office said Friday, Dec. 12 that the cop will go to trial for the third time in March, unless the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office dismisses the case or reaches a plea deal with Weekley.
Authorities said he faces a misdemeanor count of negligent discharge of weapon causing death, which could mean up to two years in jail. Two previous juries failed to convict the officer and a Wayne County judge dropped the most serious charge, involuntary manslaughter, a felony.
McBride was shot by Theodore "Ted" Wafer on the porch of his Dearborn Heights home in November 2013. He was sentenced to 17 to 32 years in prison for the murder in September.