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Raoul: Education programs to protect places of worship can, and do, save lives

Kwame Raoul
Capitol News Illinois
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

Of all the places that should be safe, churches and schools seem like they should be at the top of the list. But reports of mass shootings and other violence in places of worship are frequent enough to challenge one’s faith.

But Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul says programs like Tuesday night’s “Protecting Places of Worship Forum” can — and do — save lives.

“We hear about the ones that occur, but we don’t hear about the ones that don’t occur as a result of people having noticed something, having reported it to law enforcement,” said Raoul told WGLT before the event.

The program at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in Bloomington attracted representatives of churches throughout Bloomington-Normal and central Illinois, and officials from law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and local law enforcement.

Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in Bloomington
Jim Stahly Jr.
The program at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in Bloomington attracted representatives of churches throughout Bloomington-Normal and central Illinois.

Topics included various aspects of hate crimes, prosecutions, statutes and statistics as well as responses. There also were sessions dedicated to protecting places of worship and active shooter response. The group also discussed grants available to churches to improve security.

News media wasn’t permitted to record during the event.

Originally planned in 2020 before the pandemic, the session is one of many held throughout the state over the past several years. And while he couldn’t go into details, Raoul said these sessions have led to attacks being stopped before they started.

“You’ve heard of incidents that have occurred. I can tell you it ... has been, in fact, beneficial in terms of intervention,” he said.

Throughout the nation, violence in places of worship capture headlines. Last week, a federal Jury in Pittsburgh recommended the death penalty for the man convicted of killing 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018.

In interviews with WGLT, several panelists at Tuesday's program echoed the theme of preparedness and knowing what to look for ahead of an act.

Even the word “security” can be loaded, said Raoul.

“When you think about security, you’re almost thinking about what are you doing to respond and react, instead of what are the signs of somebody who may be a threat ahead of time,” he said.

And while on-site security may in fact be part of a plan, “if your plan is just to respond to an act that takes place that, you’re almost too late,” he added.

Bloomington Police Chief Jamal Simington echoed Raoul’s comments, saying that while Bloomington-Normal hasn’t seen significant issues, it’s important for everyone to understand best practices for prevention — especially when it comes to reporting to law enforcement.

To some, planning to deal with violence might seem strange at a place that’s supposed to be, by definition, peaceful.

But to the Rev. Dr. Timothy Mark Harris, senior pastor at Mt. Pisgah, it’s pretty straightforward.

“We trust in God, but in the same token we understand the reality of the times we’re living in,” he said.

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Jim Stahly Jr. is a correspondent with WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
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