The vast majority of police officers “are promoters of justice, and I open my heart and tip my hat to them,” Fitzgerald Clark told a gathering for community and unity that met Sunday in the wake of the killing of African-American residents of Minnesota and Louisiana at the hands of police last week followed by the deaths of five Dallas police officers killed by a lone gunman.

“We need the good cops to speak out against the cops who aren’t so good, because they are out there too," Clark said.

Clark, a board member of Not In Our Town Billings, which organized the event, was keynote speaker for the gathering, held at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church and attended by nearly 50 people. Attendees sang patriotic hymns, lit candles and shared why they believe it’s important for the community to come together after mourning the violence.

The gathering was organized following last week’s killings of a pair of African-Americans, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile near St. Paul, Minn. Those killings were followed by the shooting of five police officers in Dallas — Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens, by a lone gunman, whom police later killed with a robot armed with a bomb.

“This is a time,” Marty Elizabeth Ortiz, NIOT board chair, said to the crowd, “to mourn and process what happened.”

“I used to tell my kids — and I’m rethinking it — that if somebody told them they have all the answers, run,” said Mary Beth Beaulieu, a NIOT board member. “Now I want to tell them to stop and listen. Just try to understand.”

Clark told the gathering that justice and love “are inexorably combined. Belief and prayer without action aren’t enough. I can’t tell you what your actions should be. Just talk, share, reflect — and then act. Do something that will make a difference, because nothing changes without action.”

Black Lives Matter came about, Clark said, “because people aren’t being held accountable. We all want to believe that our lives matter and that people care, but when no one is held responsible, you feel like you don’t matter and that no one cares.

“Still,” he added, “I’m filled with hope, because I know what human beings are capable of — depravity, yes, but also nobility and courage.”

“We are better than we were,” Clark said, his voice reaching a thundering crescendo near the conclusion of his address. “I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know anybody who does, but we must continue along the path of struggle, growth and advancement.”

“We hear about shootings by police, and about people shooting up preschools, mosques and Bible studies in church. When is gun violence going to stop?” asked Doug Johnson of Billings. “I get distressed every time I read about gun murders.”

Carol Mick of Billings said people “are quick to judge without knowing the other person well.” She urged the crowd to “love people who don’t look lovable.”

Lela Schlitz called Sunday’s event “a wonderful assembly.”

“I hope we can do more to educate people in our community,” she said. “I have the same hope that I did marching for civil rights during the 1960s, but we need to learn that it’s good to speak out. When we don’t, it’s cowardly.”

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City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.