Protests and prayers after another shooting: Will Christmas Eve be peaceful?

Christmas Eve could offer a much-needed pause for reflection, but some are choosing protests over prayers for peace.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters
People take part in a candlelight vigil at the site where two police officers were shot in Brooklyn, New York, December 21. The NYPD officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot and killed as they sat in a marked squad car in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon, New York Police Commissioner William Bratton said. The suspect in the shooting then shot and killed himself.

On Tuesday night, an armed black teenager was shot by a white police officer at a gas station two miles from Ferguson, Missouri, leaving the nation to wonder what will come upon this holy midnight: calm heads or crisis.

As many Americans celebrate Christmas Eve, will churches or streets be more filled tonight – and will the news report protests or prayer?

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the officer was doing a business check at a Mobil gas station in Berkeley, Missouri, around 11:15 p.m. when the shooting happened, said Berkeley police chief Jon Belmar. By midnight, the streets were filled with chanting protesters and stunned onlookers. In NBC News footage from the scene, a protester shouts, “No justice, no peace.”

According to the Post-Dispatch, two men approached the officer, one of whom pointed a handgun at the officer. The officer fired several shots, striking and fatally wounding the man, who was pronounced dead at the scene. While police did not release the name of the victim, the Post-Dispatch reported that a woman at the scene, Toni Martin-Green, said it was her 18-year-old son, Antonio Martin.

On Twitter, some #AntonioMartin responses condemned police, but many swiftly turned to prayer and communal grief, especially after a touching video circulated, showing the victim’s mother sobbing as she spotted her son’s body.

As this holy night approaches, heralding the advent of the Prince of Peace, many protesters hope to continue the national discussion on police and gun violence.

On Tuesday, before this shooting, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for a pause in the protests during funeral services following the slaying of two NYPD officers, but Reverend Al Sharpton and other protesters rejected the request.

Some hope that the protests, if they remain peaceful, could offer the badly needed pause for reflection or peace on Christmas, in New York or several other cities across the nation.

In New Orleans, a generations-old tradition of Christmas Eve levee bonfires is being dramatically updated, as participants plan to light a 17-foot-tall, 8-foot-wide figure standing in the “Hands up, don’t shoot” posture that has become a symbol of the protests. “It’s a tragedy, actually, and it’s a travesty of justice,” said resident Harold LaGrange, who helped build the structure. “I disagree with the outcome, but I don’t think violence is the way, so we’re just trying to do something peaceful.”

In Topeka, Kansas, local activist Sonny Scroggins is planning a protest Wednesday night against "heavy-handed" police. Mr. Scroggins told local media, “We’re all supposed to get along.... We need those officers wearing some type of cameras. There’s too many people coming up dead from suicide (by police).”

A peaceful protest has been organized by youths in Greenville, SC, set to begin at 11:55 p.m. The students plan to pray out in the streets as part of an effort to scale back the level of public violence, said Asya Sheffield, president of the Greenville Youth Cross-Cultural Leadership Council and a high school senior. "We believe that instead of focusing so much on everything bad that’s happening, we should all come together as one and celebrate this wonderful holiday that Christ was born."

Meanwhile, in East Texas, residents have chosen noon rather than midnight Christmas Eve to take to the streets in support of emergency responders. Community activist Karen Maines organized the event in response to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee's call for a national moment of prayer for police. "I want to show my support tomorrow on Christmas Eve, a very busy day, to say thank you to our law enforcement, our first responders and our military personnel all over the world that do this for us," Maines says. "God bless America."

All over the nation, churches will still hold traditional Christmas Eve services, including Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral in St. Louis at midnight.

This might be a good time to remember that historically Christmas Eve and Day have been known for extraordinary moments of peace on earth, goodwill, and an end to hostilities between combatants of all kinds – both real and fictional.

Cartoonist Charles Schultz penned a holiday song about the Christmas Eve when his character Snoopy met the Red Baron in the skies for a dogfight – and the Red Baron chose to spare his mortal enemy on the sacred night.

Mr. Schultz may have been inspired by some real world cease-fires, hailed by the faithful this time of year as examples of how, even in times of all-out war, combatants have made the choice to lay down their arms, cross trenches bearing gifts to the enemy, or opt for a peace without protest.

During the First World War, during the Christmas truce of 1914, peace came briefly to the English and German trenches on the Western Front. In a recently released letter from the trenches, A. D. Chater described the transcendent moment when enemies risked their lives to walk out into no-man’s land to wish each other a Merry Christmas and play football.

In 1944, US sailors aboard the USS Cleveland, which had seen action at Midway, Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, and Manila were told a priest would come aboard ship for a midnight mass, writes Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, whose father was present. All were elated, he says, until it was revealed the priest was of Asian origin. As sailors began to walk out of the service in protest, someone began to sing “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

“Prejudice, hatred, suspicion, and antagonism were changed into love, acceptance and joy on USS Cleveland,” says Cardinal Dolan. “That’s the miracle of Christmas!”

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