‘For Secoriea Turner’: At another vigil, Atlantans say stop violence

A crowd stands reverently with their heads bowed as prayers and kind words are offered to the family of Secoriea Turner during a prayer vigil put together by Elisabeth Williams-Omilami and Afemo Omilami of Hosea Helps at Atlanta’s City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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A crowd stands reverently with their heads bowed as prayers and kind words are offered to the family of Secoriea Turner during a prayer vigil put together by Elisabeth Williams-Omilami and Afemo Omilami of Hosea Helps at Atlanta’s City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Afemo Omilami stood in the cloaking humidity Wednesday in front of Atlanta City Hall and closed his eyes to pray.

He thought of Secoriea Turner, the 8-year-old girl who was killed near a burned-out Wendy's where activists had camped to demand an end to racism and police brutality against Black people. Omilami himself had been involved in similar movements for many years.

Yet he, like the several dozen residents and community leaders who came to this vigil — the second in as many days — to stand against a recent surge of violence in the city, was outraged to learn the gunmen who killed Secoriea were ostensibly supposed to be advocates of Black lives.

Those who shot Secoriea had been hanging around with guns near the Wendy’s, which some had claimed was ground zero for a new phase of the social justice movement in Atlanta. While the gunmen were near the Wendy’s, protesters who’d been staying there for weeks said they did not know the shooters. And protesters said they had told the armed men to remove the barricades at that site that very night, before the child was shot.

“We’re heading to death and destruction,” Omilami said into the mic, his voice echoing over Mitchell Street. “Let us all be held accountable in this day and hour for what we say and do and what we don’t do.”

Omilami, who heads Hosea Helps with his wife, Elisabeth Williams-Omilami, begged for anyone who knows anything about the shooting to come forward. He spoke of the killers with scorn: “You’re not a man. You’re a coward who would turn your weapons on a baby!”

» MORE: Atlanta Wendy's protesters decry Secoriea Turner's killing

Secoriea died Saturday night, shot while riding with her mother down University Avenue. They encountered a group of armed people blocking the road near the Wendy’s, where activists for weeks had refused to leave unless the city met their demands to institute police reforms and establish a memorial for Rayshard Brooks — killed during a confrontation with Atlanta police at the restaurant on June 12.

Secoriea’s mother, Charmaine Turner, said the group started shooting at the car as she was trying to go around the roadblock. When the child was hit, she screamed her mother’s name. Soon, she was dead.

Speaking in a Sunday news conference about the child's death, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms worried that it could set back the movement for police reforms, which she has supported.

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Afemo Omilami of Hosea Helps offers a prayer to the family of Secoriea Turner during a vigil hosted by Hosea Helps at Atlanta’s City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Afemo Omilami of Hosea Helps offers a prayer to the family of Secoriea Turner during a vigil hosted by Hosea Helps at Atlanta’s City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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Afemo Omilami of Hosea Helps offers a prayer to the family of Secoriea Turner during a vigil hosted by Hosea Helps at Atlanta’s City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

But the message at Wednesday’s vigil was clear and often repeated by speakers and attendees: Black lives must be valued more and not ended unjustly, whether it’s George Floyd with a Minneapolis cop’s knee on his neck, or Secoriea killed by armed civilians on a power trip.

“We’ve got to stop saying Black lives only matter when white cops shoot them,” said longtime civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Gerald L. Durley, 78. “Black lives matter when we shoot each other!”

When Selena Hudson thought of how brokenhearted she’s been lately, tears poured down her face, wetting the mask she wore to guard against the coronavirus.

“I’m upset about everything. Too many deaths,” she said.

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Elisabeth Williams-Omilami of Hosea Helps speaks about Secoriea Turner during a prayer vigil put together by Hosea Helps at Atlanta’s City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Elisabeth Williams-Omilami of Hosea Helps speaks about Secoriea Turner during a prayer vigil put together by Hosea Helps at Atlanta’s City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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Elisabeth Williams-Omilami of Hosea Helps speaks about Secoriea Turner during a prayer vigil put together by Hosea Helps at Atlanta’s City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Hudson said she’s angry the city’s justice system allows repeat offenders to bond out of jail. She’s angry about George Floyd’s death and Secoriea’s.

Hudson is a single mother, raising a 17-year-old daughter in a city that has lately felt perilous and divided. For her part, she supports the Black Lives Matter protesters — of which her daughter, Zy, is one — and she supports the police.

“Anybody who’s doing the right thing, I’m supporting them,” the 37-year-old mother said.

Victoria Davis, 30, who pushed a boy in a stroller down to the vigil, felt similarly.

She said she was devastated by Secoriea’s death and Floyd’s and Ahmaud Arbery’s.

The violence needs to end, she said.

“It’s just a continuous weight,” she said. “It feels like there’s no relief.”

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Afemo Omilami of Hosea Helps becomes emotional during a prayer vigil at Atlanta’s City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. The event honored Secoriea Turner, the 8-year-old girl who was shot and killed in southeast Atlanta during a wave of violence over the Fourth of July weekend. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Afemo Omilami of Hosea Helps becomes emotional during a prayer vigil at Atlanta’s City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. The event honored Secoriea Turner, the 8-year-old girl who was shot and killed in southeast Atlanta during a wave of violence over the Fourth of July weekend. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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Afemo Omilami of Hosea Helps becomes emotional during a prayer vigil at Atlanta’s City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. The event honored Secoriea Turner, the 8-year-old girl who was shot and killed in southeast Atlanta during a wave of violence over the Fourth of July weekend. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

A separate gathering in honor of Secoriea — the Peace in the Streets Prayer Vigil — was held Tuesday in Atlanta's Mechanicsville neighborhood, organized by Rev. Darryl Winston of Greater Works Ministries in Marietta.

As for Wednesday’s vigil, Secoriea’s family had intended to be there, but ultimately couldn’t.

Family friend Kayla Washington did attend, with her own 9-year-old daughter, who hid her face against her mother’s lap and cried while Washington spoke about Secoriea’s mother. Charmaine Turner, Washington said, is “destroyed.”

If the mother had been able to attend, she would’ve heard the crowd sing one of the songs Secoriea loved to sing. She would’ve heard the crowd change the words for her lost baby.

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. For Secoriea Turner, I’m gonna let it shine. For Secoriea Turner, I’m gonna let it shine …”

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A man offers prayers for the family and friends of Secoriea Turner during a prayer vigil put together by Elisabeth Williams-Omilami and Afemo Omilami of Hosea Helps at Atlanta’s City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

A man offers prayers for the family and friends of Secoriea Turner during a prayer vigil put together by Elisabeth Williams-Omilami and Afemo Omilami of Hosea Helps at Atlanta’s City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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A man offers prayers for the family and friends of Secoriea Turner during a prayer vigil put together by Elisabeth Williams-Omilami and Afemo Omilami of Hosea Helps at Atlanta’s City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)