Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Clergy go to jail to protest the death of Michael Brown

[Meg Hegemann, pastor at Wilkes Street United Methodist Church, Columbia, Missouri, challenges a police officer to reprent.]

As fans on both ends of the state cheered for their baseball team to win playoff games, clergy showed up in Ferguson, Missouri with a desire to be arrested. They peacefully and intentionally pressed through the crowd hoping they would be taken to jail.

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals made the front page, but the real news was at the police station.

A seasoned white minister did his best to break through the line as a police officer yelled at him while pushing the minister with his baton.

“I was instantly scared that the minister would be hit with the baton,” said Katie Jansen Larson, an organizer with Missouri Faith Voices. “My first reaction was to look for a peace-keeper but I quickly realized that a peace-keeper couldn't do anything to stop a police officer from hitting that minister.”

Larson began to wonder how far the officer would go to maintain control.

“And then I began to panic as I thought if he hits the minister will he hit someone else? Will he hit me? I'm not safe. And the police who I always turn to for protection are the ones threatening my safety,” Larson said. “My body told me to run. I didn't run, but I moved much closer to my colleagues and watched their faces for signs of panic.”

42 people were arrested during the Moral Monday protest in front of the St. Louis County Police Department. Monday was part of “Ferguson October” – four days of social action and civil disobedience fueled by the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO.

“We respond to call ourselves to heed and join with the witness to the cry that Michael Brown’s life matters,” said Deb Krause, dean at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis. Krause cancelled all classes at the United Church of Christ seminary to allow students to participate in the protest.

Hundreds gathered in the rain with a willingness to go to jail.  Rev. Cassandra Gould, pastor of Quinn Chapel in Jefferson City, MO, was one of the first clergy to protest the death of Michael Brown. 

“The biggest shift I have witnessed has been on the part of the clergy as many of us realize we have more to learn from the young people than we have to teach them,” Gould said. “Initially what I observed was the natural inclination and well-intended actions of faith leaders that resembled the colonial missionary model, of ‘let us bring you what we have, let us show you what to do in this case.’"

Gould has noticed resistance among clergy to protest in Ferguson.

“This is not due to lack of passion but it is evident we were ill-prepared for this situation,” Gould said. “Yet considering St. Louis, in the words of the young people, ‘has a church on every corner,’ it is evident that the prophetic and sustainable witness that is needed is not for every woman or man of the cloth.

Larson, a white woman, said Monday’s protest taught her an important lesson.

“I realized that this is what some people - specifically most African American men - experience every single day,” Larson said. “We can't change our assumptions or imagine a new way to be together if we don't know each other - if we allow current barriers to exist.”

Eyes closed hoping it will all go away.

Eyes open now. It’s worse than before.

The pain keeps mounting higher as seeds of rage, planted long ago, bear the bitter fruit of hostility.

Welcome to Ferguson, Missouri.

The pain is too deep to cover with simple prayers. It’s been there too long to sing away with lyrics laced with the promise of overcoming someday.  My shovel is too small, and I lack the strength to carry the mud alone.

Help me hold my shovel as I dig deep in search of hope.

Digging fiercely in search of unity.

Can two teams become one?

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