Dr. Frederick Douglass Haynes III, pastor of Friendship West, a Black mega-church in far southern Dallas near DeSoto, still doesn’t think he needs the help of an armed militia to protect his churchgoers. But he knows influential people in southern Dallas who disagree, especially given last Sunday.
Around noon Sunday, a reportedly all-White group driving about a thousand jeeps, pickups and motorcycles flying “Back the Blue” banners and at least one Confederate battle flag, according to news reports, showed up to the parking lot at Friendship West for what they said was a “pit stop” during a highway parade to support police. The group previously had been granted permission by the church to use the lot for half an hour but only under what Haynes now says were false pretenses.
Haynes is the second generation of a Dallas family of activist Black clergy. Like his father before him, he has been an outspoken equal rights advocate. His church, Friendship West, is a center of the Black Lives Matter movement in Dallas. A huge Black Lives Matter banner is affixed to the church’s massive façade.
So a common sense question would be: how likely is it Haynes or his church granted permission to use their parking lot knowing in advance it would be swarmed by thousands of White people in pickups and on motorcycles displaying the Confederate battle flag?
I was unsuccessful in efforts to reach Nathan Abrams, organizer of Sunday’s “Blue Lives Cruise.” Organizers of the parade told reporters Sunday they had intended no insult or challenge and only needed a place to rest.
Haynes says not everybody in the crowd Sunday may have been there to kick off a racial confrontation: “I have received too many apologies from persons who were unwittingly pulled into what took place on Sunday,” Haynes says. “They are adamantly opposed to what happened.”
But he thinks a core of people knew exactly what they were doing: “One of my colleagues has a staff member who has been working to fight racism in Southlake (a majority White northern suburb). They and their child were on their way to a drive-by birthday party (in Southlake) that was canceled Sunday because the father and his four grown sons were going to ‘take over Friendship West.’
“So you had some who were innocent, and I accept their apology. You had others who came with the intention of doing exactly what took place, and that is engaging in an act of intimidation and invasion.”
Haynes puts the incident at his church Sunday into what he calls a context of extreme national volatility on race: “I feel like war has been declared on us.”
In the last year, members of a national armed Black militia movement called NFAC (Not Fucking Around Coalition) have shown up in force bearing arms at the scenes of controversial police shootings and other race-related causes around the country. Dallas has always had its own small Black militias, usually centered on specific neighborhoods or problems.
Dallas historian Donald Payton recounts that when the Rev. Maynard Holbrook Jackson, Sr., pastor of New Hope Baptist Church (father of Maynard Jackson, Jr., elected first Black mayor of Atlanta in 1973), was threatened by White vigilantes in Dallas in the 1940s, a militia made up of Black skilled tradesmen came to his rescue:
“All of those lodge brothers and church fellows got together and surrounded his house,” Payton says. “They said, ‘You ain’t touching Rev. Jackson, you know.’”
Haynes says he hears calls now for an armed response to incidents like the one last Sunday, but so far he eschews those calls himself. “Given the climate of this country,” he says, “I would not be responsible if I helped to stir the pot and added to it by having armed militias as it were around the church.
“I am still in the Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis camp. That is, I believe that our moral presence is a weapon,” he said. “I’m just not going to advocate a violent response in a country that has a bloated military budget and that could easily wipe out communities that they target as adversarial. If we were to advocate militias, then we set ourselves for them to use us as sitting ducks.”
He describes a tense scene Sunday in which violence may have been averted only by fortunate timing. When he received word of White motorcyclists massing at his church, he did not call police. The chief of police called him.
“Unfortunately, we are in a day where if you call the police in the Black community you are playing Russian roulette, so I am not necessarily one to rush and call them,” Haynes says. “As a matter of fact, Sunday, when that event happened, I went straight to the church.”
On his way, Haynes says he received a call from Chief U. Reneé Hall. “The police chief called me and said she was sending officers there. But it was not at my request. I told her she better hope they beat me getting there, because we weren’t going there without really dealing with it.”
Haynes and police were able to disperse the crowd on the parking lot. But within minutes of the last White driver departing Friendship West, Haynes says irate Black church members who had been alerted by social media began pouring onto the lot.
“Sunday the community came out en masse,” Haynes says. “It was a matter of minutes separating the last cars from the invaders and the community coming in. They rushed to the church.”
His challenge at that point, he says, was maintaining control. “I will put it as nicely as I can. There are those in the community who were not just offended but felt disrespected. I cannot necessarily control their response. Sunday I did what I could to allow expression to take place as well as to harness that energy.
“But I will be honest with you. There are persons in our community who felt offended and will protect the community at all costs. I have friends who are preachers and pastors who have told me, ‘Hey, you may not believe in carrying a weapon, but we do, and we will do it, and we will come wherever you are and make sure that people know that they don’t have the right to intimidate us, to invade and violate us in the way they did Sunday.’
“That’s the thing we have to be aware of, that there are people that I don’t have any control over,” Haynes says, “and they are more than ready to engage.”