The top pastor of one of Los Angeles' most prominent churches has apologized for a sermon in which he compared police shootings to Ku Klux Klan lynchings.
Pastor J. Edgar Boyd of the First AME Church ignited the controversy during a Jan. 18 sermon.
"Today, lynchings still occur but in a different form," he told congregants. "The Klansmen today do not raid in the night raids with robes on and hoods on. But what they do is put a blue uniform on and a gold badge and take a baton or a police weapon, and they come at the least time we expect them and they take the lives of our young black men and young brown men. They take their lives long before they're able to learn what God has in store for them in life."
A video of the sermon has circulated among law enforcement officers, and the comments were highlighted in a report by KCBS this week. The sermon came after months of protests over recent controversial police killings of young black men in Ferguson, Mo.; New York; and Los Angeles.
In the wake of the sermon, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell skipped a planned appearance at the church that has long been a platform for L.A.'s most prominent leaders, particularly in the black community.
The video was strongly condemned by the union representing more than 9,500 Los Angeles police officers, the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
"The LAPPL is deeply disturbed and astonished by Pastor Boyd's comments. LAPD officers have worked relentlessly to build and foster a relationship between the community and the police," said Jerretta Sandoz, the league's director. "Unfortunately, comments like those of Pastor Boyd only serve to tear down what has taken many years to cultivate. The LAPPL has reached out to Pastor Boyd and is looking forward to a timely response and productive discussion."
Mayor Eric Garcetti attended last Sunday's service at First AME and rejected the comparison of police to the KKK when he addressed the congregation.
"We cannot equate the white robe of the night rider with the blue uniform of the police officer, and we must not equate dark skin with dark intent," he said.
McDonnell this week joined in rebuking the pastor but also pledged to work with him going forward.
"There are, however, unfortunate moments when dialog and debate can dissolve into dissension or misunderstanding," he said in a statement. "The well-being of our entire community will depend on how we respond to these moments that can test the resolve of all of us – it is exactly in these challenging times that we must strengthen lines of communication, fortifying trust with our words as well as our actions."
Faced with growing criticism, Boyd issued an apology video to parishioners.
"In that sermon, I made some references to the covert activity of KKK in the 1960s in the South. I also made some references to some of the law enforcement officers around the country and their line of duty and their actions. My father taught me how to take responsibility and today I am taking responsibility of for those words," Boyd said. "My apology is offered to anyone who those words may have offended or may have taken those words in terms that were not the way I intended them. For those I apologize."
The pastor went on to mention Beck, McDonnell and California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrell, encouraging them to work with others to improve community relations.
"I invite all of us to remain at the table of discussion so we can bring communities and generations together to resolve some of the problems," he added.
In the wake of the apology, the LAPD issued a statement saying that the congregation includes many past and present police officers.
"The LAPD will continue to work with community leaders, including Rev. Boyd, and any other community leaders that want to make Los Angeles a better, safer place," Cmdr. Andrew Smith said in the statement.