About once a month through the entire book, I share a personal story to help the reader connect with me and see how God has worked through my experiences and failures to bring about this book. Here is the story from Month Three of Volume One. It is amazing to me that after forty-plus years, we are still having this same problem in our culture.
In 1980, I was living in Abilene, Texas attending college. That summer I traveled back to Florida to see some old school friends and people from the churches I attended when we lived there. Apparently not too many people remember Arthur McDuffie. He was the George Floyd of 1980. McDuffie was a salesman and ex-Marine. He committed a minor traffic violation and apparently tried to elude police, which led to a beat down by four Miami-Dade police officers. I don’t remember all the details, but McDuffie died a few days later. Even though the officers attempted to cover up the incident, eight arrests were made, and a trial was held for five of the officers. Five months after his death, an all-white jury acquitted the officers and all hell broke loose in the Overtown, Liberty City, and Coconut Grove areas of Miami.
I remember the Watts riots in 1965, the Chicago riots in 1968, and the Rodney King riots in 1992, but I did not see any of those personally. All my memories are from TV reports. Even though I was on the force in 1992, we did not have much trouble locally. But, in 1980, I was right in the middle of Miami. I can picture driving north on I-95 watching the columns of smoke rise from multiple locations west of the interstate. It is unfortunate that McDuffie’s death did not result in the changes we needed to prevent everything that has happened since.
But that was not my first riot (if I may use that term loosely). The first large crowd experience I was a part of, which the police thought was a riot, was caused by my dad. In 1972, Worcester, Massachusetts was the drug capital of New England. The center of drug activity in Worcester was Kilby Street. Every summer, a group of “summer missionaries” would come up from somewhere in the Bible belt. Most were Southern Baptist college students on a 4-8 week mission trip. We were having an outdoor week-long revival in the back parking lot but were not drawing a crowd. My dad decided to move the event to the front of the church which faced a major street, blocks away from Kilby Street. Still no crowd. Dad discovered that there had been a murder on Kilby Street. People were hunkered down fearing retaliation and a gang war. Dad attended the victim’s wake then decided to move the revival to where the people were – Kilby Street.
We loaded up the sound system and frightened college students, then set up shop on Kilby Street. The electric keyboard was plugged in through a tenement (apartment) window in the alley. The water used to clean the blood from the crime scene was still in the gutters. When the music started, people flooded the streets and were hanging out every tenement window. The choir sang hymns and choruses in Spanish – bad Spanish. It was nighttime and the cops were called because of the ruckus. Squad cars, motorcycles, and patty wagons screamed to the location, fearing the worst. Once they figured out what was going on, someone heard one of the officers on the police radio saying, “It’s only Pastor Tremaine having a sing-along.”
When you’re committed to the work of the Kingdom and the voice of the King, you sometimes have to go places and do things you would not normally go or do. But many were saved, and more violence was averted because the Church took the Light into the darkness and let it shine.