(TMU) – A Virginia sheriff has apologized to a Black pastor after he called police for help after a group of angry white people invaded his property, surrounded him and threatened to murder him after attempting to dump a refrigerator on is property.
“I felt, literally, like I had been lynched without being killed,” a shaken Leon K. McCray Sr. said. The 61-year-old pastor described the ordeal as “indeed the most humiliating, dehumanizing, damning and violating event of my life.”
“I’m a pastor, a decorated 24-year Air Force master sergeant veteran, no criminal record,” McCray added.
However, none of this mattered when local Shenandoah County Sheriff’s deputies responding to his 911 call automatically assumed that he was a criminal suspect because he was practicing his legal right to bear arms.
McCray had been visiting an apartment he owns in the nearby town of Edinburg on June 1st when he saw a man and a woman, both white, hauling a refrigerator from another property to his apartment’s dumpster.
After the pastor requested that they leave the property, the pair reacted furiously and threatened him. The two quickly came back to the property with three friends who also were white, he told WUSA.
At that stage, the five people had completely surrounded the Black senior citizen and began hurling racial slurs at him and attacking him physically, pushing him from behind and even head-butting him.
In a June 7th sermon shared to YouTube, Pastor McCray told parishioners at his Woodstock church that one of the men even “ran to me full speed snatching his shirt off, jumping in my face, and then he circled around behind me.”
“These same individuals were threatening my life telling me that my black life and the Black Lives Matter stuff, they don’t give a darn about that in this county and they could care less and ‘we will kill you,’” he added.
Fortunately, the pastor was carrying some heat.
McCray eventually pulled out his legal concealed pistol to “save” himself and “pointed it down to the ground in hopes that they would back off.” At that point, he had just enough time to call 911.
Deputies from the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office arrived and immediately arrested the elderly McCray and confiscated his weapon while chatting with his five assailants, who continued screaming and hurling racist epithets toward the pastor.
The deputies were entirely uninterested in letting McCray tell his side of the story. To add insult to injury, he was instead “handcuffed in front of the mob,” and driven away while the group mockingly waved at him as he was hauled off down the road.
McCray was charged by deputies with brandishing a firearm, a misdemeanor.
In the state of Virginia, it is entirely to legal to brandish a weapon in “justifiable self-defense.” Additionally, McCray said he had a license to carry a concealed weapon, in line with his “Second Amendment right to defend myself against five attackers that tried to take my life.”
Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy Carter eventually issued a statement last week saying that he had spoken with McCray on June 3, only two days after the incident and apologized. The sheriff also said that the Shenandoah County Attorney’s Office has been asked to drop the brandishing charge against the pastor.
“After talking with him about the incident, it was apparent to me that the charge of brandishing was certainly not appropriate,” Sheriff Carter wrote in a Facebook post that’s since been deleted. “Actually, as I told Mr. McCray, if I were faced with similar circumstances, I would have probably done the same thing.”
While four of the five assailants had initially faced charges of assult or trespassing, Sheriff Carter’s discussion with McCray convinced him that the charges should be stepped up to include additional hate crime charges.
Donny Richard Salyers, Dennis James Salyers, Farrah Lee Salyers, Christopher Kevin Sharp and Amanda Dawn Salyers are now being held without bond.
Two sheriff’s office supervisors have also been placed on unpaid administrative leave while the investigation continues, Carter said.
“I want the people of Shenandoah County to know that I and the sheriff’s office staff appreciate and care about the minority communities, and especially our black community,” the sheriff told The Washington Post.
But for Pastor McCray, the events that transpired offered irrefutable proof that the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police had actually “changed something” in the relations between the police and the community, as well as the broader fight against police brutality on a national and international level.
“It shifted something in myself and probably many people alike,” he said in his June 7 sermon. “This tragedy of unbelievable death has catapulted this country and the world with a clarion call for change that will not be denied.”
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