HALL COUNTY — The Rev. Jeff Hood neared the end of the protest Thursday night in downtown Dallas, where hundreds had gathered peacefully in response to police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota.
Talking with officers who helped coordinate the march on July 7, Hood heard the gunshots.
“As I crossed Austin Street, I heard it, pop, pop,” he said of the shots. “As I looked up, two officers collapsed. The police officer next to me started running toward the situation.”
As he felt around his shirt to see if he had been shot, the instincts he said were instilled in him by his father, Hall County Fire Chief Jeff Hood, took over.
“That training that I guess I got from my father kicked in, and I realized that there were 800 people behind me that were potential victims,” he said.
Holding an 8-foot cross, he started “swinging that thing around kind of like a shepherd’s staff,” trying to get people to move back and away from the potential line of fire.
Fire Chief Hood was unavailable for comment.
The Rev. Hood stopped and prayed with people in the area, where the focus was “love” and “justice.”
“We can’t just work for justice,” he said. “We’ve got to work for love. Love and justice is what goes together, and we’ve got to remember that.”
Hood was raised in Clayton County, where he said he developed an appreciation for diversity as his father worked for the local fire department.
“For my entire upbringing, I’ve seen my father run into burning buildings and on some level even sit in burning buildings trying to help people,” he said.
The protest Thursday was a chance for “people have to have the opportunity to express themselves,” he said.
“We’ve got to get a place where police departments and municipal governments, county governments are able to come to the table with their citizens,” Hood said.
Hood said he was thankful that attention is still being given to these difficult issues like that seen in the protests in Atlanta over the last several days. Marchers brought traffic to a standstill downtown after gathering at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights near Centennial Olympic Park over the weekend.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed joined the crowd and, invoking the name of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., told protesters he respected their First Amendment rights to protest but wanted to keep them safe, so he would not let them move onto the freeway.
As local governments and the citizens they represent continue to grapple with these issues, the reverend said he hopes the community moves toward attitudes seen in Scripture in Matthew 25 and to love one’s neighbor.
The Bible chapter states that, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
“If we live in these two ways,” Hood said, “we will see a new world.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.