BERKELEY -- Dozens of congregants lifted their hands in a West Berkeley church Aug. 24 in prayer and in protest of the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American, shot Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo.

Pastor Michael McBride of The Way Christian Center at 1305 University Ave., had just returned from four intense days in Ferguson, where he served as an observer and peacekeeper during the highly publicized protests that followed Brown's death.

"Hands up don't shoot" has become the Ferguson protesters' mantra; Brown was reportedly killed while his hands were raised.

"For this whole week I watched young people and elderly folk, women and children, using this 'hands up, don't shoot' chant, while they faced down -- dare I say, while we faced down — the barrel of machine guns and tear gas launchers and heavy armored tanks that were right in front of our faces," McBride said, beginning to preach.

"As we lifted up our hands, we were faced with all kinds of racial and dehumanizing language and threats and physically manhandled, and it was very apparent to me that perhaps this hands-up chant was more than just some catchy phrase," he said. "As I stood on one of those lines with the police with their assault rifles trained on me and, a group of us -- as we stood between them and a number of the protesters -- as I had my hands up, I began to think of all the verses that told all the people of God to lift up your hands."


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A former executive director of Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action and current director of People Improving Communities through Organizing National Network's Live Free Campaign, McBride urged the mostly African American congregation not to be paralyzed by injustice, but to fight back nonviolently.

"If you're going to have a hands-up theology, a hands-up philosophy, if you're going to be able to withstand all of these enemies both external and internal, you've got to be able to take a stand and use what God has given you," he said.

"There is a fight that all people of God must engage in.

"This fight must be fought not with the weapons of our own warfare, but with the weapons of God," he said, urging nonviolence.

McBride, who was heading back to Ferguson the next day to continue organizing clergy and young people in a sustained response to Brown's death, spoke to a small group of parishioners after the service, saying he'd gained a new perspective on the militarization of police.

He described police "indiscriminately shooting tear gas and projectiles into the crowd," and said he got tear-gassed and saw others hit with rubber bullets and tear-gas canisters.

"They would use their armored trucks to make almost doughnuts in the street, jump out with 10 guys with their rifles and just put them in all of our faces and tell us get off the street or 'we'll blow your face off,'" he said. "The whole thing was just crazy."

When protesters would try to follow police commands to leave an area, they'd be faced with another group of police pushing them back in the direction they'd come from, he said.

"What has made us unsafe is the militarizing of police," he said, noting that even Berkeley police had wanted to purchase an armored vehicle.

McBride talked specifically about Urban Shield, a federal Homeland Security initiative where regionwide police agencies train with civilian agencies. The training can include military-style exercises; vendors come with equipment for sale that includes armored vehicles and drones.

Clergy protesting Urban Shield in Oakland had reached out to him last year, McBride said. "It was out of my radar then," he said, underscoring that he would be involved this year.

Parishioners thanked their pastor. One told the group that McBride's actions inspired her to become a leader.

"Our kids are getting shot," she said. "We're all in jeopardy.

"They spend millions of dollars for all this unnecessary stuff; the money should be going towards taking these guns off the street."

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