They all assembled to appear together united in one goal while television cameras rolled and all of Houston took notice.
“They” were police officers, constables and the sheriff –shoulder to shoulder with a Republican district attorney, a Democratic dean of the state senate and an independent mayor of the nation’s fourth largest city.
And crowded around them away from the microphone were a widely diversified assortment of pastors and chaplains, men and women of the cloth.
They all came simply to express themselves not by any political standard but, quite simply, in the name of God. They all had the same plea and that was for a prayer in God’s name for all law enforcement officers in Houston and the rest of the nation.
Each leader present promoted an HPOU-initiated drive to “Pray for Police,” an advocacy manifested in bright blue wristbands ready for distribution. All told, at least 30,000 of the special bracelets were distributed within a designated 24-hour period at the Union at which time Union members in uniform prayed with citizens who gathered with them in support of a better understanding of what the policing job entails.
This gathering was unprecedented in Houston’s history. None of the elected officials spoke of political posturing or potential gains and neither the sheriff nor the police chief said anything about operating a jail together or preserving their pensions.
They spoke about their faith in God and reliance on the Bible’s scriptures for guidance in the toughest of times and alluded to the fact that these current times are indeed the toughest for law enforcement officers everywhere.
These leaders vowed, each in his or her own way, to make sure the life of Harris County Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth will never be forgotten and that his senseless death in the line of duty would stand as a tragic event that united citizens of all colors and political beliefs behind all brave law enforcement officers everywhere.
Officially the news media briefing’s purpose was to tout a 24-hour prayer vigil held outside the headquarters of the Houston Police Officers Union on State Street in the shadows of downtown Houston. It began at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9 and lasted non-stop for precisely 24 hours.
During that period HPOU members took the lead in passing out blue “Pray for Police” bracelets to Houstonians, urging each and every one of them to give a “thumbs up” for police, not only here but everywhere. Former President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara graciously joined this HPOU crusade and proudly sported their blue wrist bands.
So did thousands of Houstonians and others outside the city who sympathized with men and women in uniform who are charged to keep the peace and protect the people.
HPOU President Ray Hunt said any citizen who stopped by the Union during the prayer vigil would easily find a Houston police officer with whom they could pray. That proved to be true during one of the busiest 24-hour periods in the 1600 block of State Street.
At the news conference, the speakers stayed on the same basic subject – using God’s word and His answered prayers to strengthen what HPD Chief Charles “Chuck” McClelland termed “not the thin blue line but the thick blue fabric of our community.”
Chief McClelland stressed that God and His word was primary key to finding solutions and answers to the ongoing problem in America between police officers and members of the minority communities. He said he keeps a Bible in the top drawer of his desk and reads the 23rd Psalm sometimes four times a day before making decisions on the most complex policing problems imaginable.
The 23rd Psalm
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for Thou art with me.
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
Thou hast anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
— (New American Standard)
Mayor Annise Parker said she relies on her faith when confronted with the death of a Houston police officer, firefighter or municipal employee killed while on the job. She said over the 18 years she has held public office in her hometown she has attended every memorial service for every public servant who died on this long-term watch.
She said three of those brave individuals were Houston police officers and each time she told those present that she would prefer never to repeat the scene ever again.
Then the mayor made one thing clear on a subject that she doesn’t normally broach at City Hall or anywhere else in public: “I believe in the power of prayer and faith to move mountains.”
Parker outlined some specifics, too, saying, “If we join together, join our voices, join our prayers, join our hands, we can make a difference. We can heal not just this rift between law enforcement and the citizens we police, but across this nation. Let it start now. Let it start here. Let it start in Houston.”
Sheriff Hickman, a retired Houston police officer, was perhaps the most emotional in the group. He had lost a popular deputy and delivered a eulogy at a funeral that grew one of the largest law enforcement line-of-duty death tributes in history. “Through your continued support and your continued prayer,” Hickman said, the understanding and support of the community for its law enforcement officers will increase.
“I think with Deputy Goforth’s death there has been an awakening in Harris County in Houston and across the nation of what exactly law-enforcement does every single day for us,” District Attorney Devon Anderson said. “Every single day they don’t know if they’re going to be able to come home to the family or not.”
State Sen. John Whitmire, a Democrat, also appeared at the gathering, underscoring the support of the dean of the Texas Senate to the effort to enhance the understanding of the dangerous jobs every officer and deputy faces on a daily basis. Standing next to Whitmire was fellow Democrat, state Rep. Sylvester Turner, the front-runner in the crowded race to succeed Parker as mayor of the Bayou City. Turner has the support of the Houston Police Officers Union.