Police in Ferguson Keep Praying and Preying

prayer

The Greater St. Mark Church was raided today as St. Louis County Police thought that protesters were spending the night in the church, which has been used as a staging area for protestors. Police have since closed the building and stated that if anyone congregates on the premises at night, there would be arrests. One member of the Dream Defenders said “what [the police] did today is tell us, what? There is no safety here.”

The Pastor of the church, Missouri Representative Tommie Pierson (D), said of the police “they don’t like us too much.”

Earlier the same day, Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson asked the police department chaplain to pray before giving the late night report. One line was particularly stunning: “Again we come here having used all the energy and all the resources that you have given to our residents, their families, and our peacekeeping force, to bring peace—your peace.”

While the killing of Michael Brown was egregious enough, the manner in which the Ferguson police force and Captain Ron Johnson have used prayer to sanction their police actions and violence towards citizen protestors is detestable.

America has a history of those in authority invoking Christianity to justify slavery, lynching, and bombings. During the conflict in Ferguson, the local and state police who recite nightly prayers before going out to intimidate and arrest protestors follow this historical trajectory.

Perhaps the most galling figure is Captain Johnson, appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon to oversee the Ferguson Police and the National Guard. Johnson appeared at a local church to apologize to Michael Brown’s parents, garnering much praise from the crowd for his respectability and Christian piety. Yet while Johnson placates the public with appeals to Christianity he simultaneously sanctions violence at the hands of the state. Perhaps the public will forget, with his constant calls to prayer, that he’s in charge of a force that has used tear gas on, cursed at and abused protestors.

In contrast, clergy in Ferguson and from around the country have come to show their solidarity and to help the citizens of Ferguson in their quest for justice. Early on, the Rev. Renita Lamkin was shot with a rubber bullet while trying to place herself between protesters and the police.

Other local clergy have met with the governor and state officials, while pastors from all over have been coming to aid in the efforts, including a group from Philadelphia that includes the pastor of Historic Mother Bethel AME church, Mark Tyler, and Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan, Pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church. The presence of clergy members is a helpful counterbalance to local and state law enforcement presenting themselves as both religious and civic authority.

The whole situation has me thinking a lot about Frederick Douglass’ Slaveholding Religion and the Christianity of Christ. His words still ring true with regard to the empty prayers of the police in Ferguson “They attend with pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.”

If there’s to be any justice for the shooting of Michael Brown, the pandering religiosity of the law enforcement officials will have to cease. What the community of Ferguson, the parents of Michael Brown, and the whole country need right now is an honest assessment of the facts, for Darren Wilson to be held accountable for his actions, and for there to be clear, truthful communication between law enforcement and the people they serve, without violence.

Anthea Butler [@AntheaButler] is a Contributing Editor to Religion Dispatches. Her forthcoming book, in’The Gospel According To Sarah: How Sarah Palinin’’s Tea Party Angels are Galvanizing the Religious Right will be out in 2013. 

  • Jim Reed

    There is a conservative God and a progressive God, and they don’t work the same way. You can’t judge one according to the feelings of the other.

  • Bill

    They attend with pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.” Douglass wrote this senence but he was paraphrasing Jesus words in Matthew 23.”Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith.”

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    Jim,

    If you think there’s a progressive god, I think you’re still stuck in the idiocies of your childhood fundamentalism.

    I’ve got tough news for you: you don’t get intelligent by shaking stupid and turning it upside down. It takes more work than that.

    -dlj.

  • Jim Reed

    You get a different feeling about God depending on which church you attend, and which group you are listening to. Until God gets more involved and helps clarify things, about all you can say is these different groups are praying to different Gods. Of course you feel your God is superior, but until your God gets involved in the affairs of men it is just your feeling, and remember everyone feels their God is superior.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jonmspangler Jon Spangler

    Jim Reed–What did you mean by your post? It seems that you and David Lloyd-Jones may have misunderstood each other, which is also what’s a big part of the problem in Ferguson, MO, Syria, Gaza/Palestine/Israel, Iraq, Iran, and Washington, DC…..

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jonmspangler Jon Spangler

    The traditionally “inviolate” nature of churches used to be a major help in maintaining real peace. What is going on when “the law” first prays–and then breaks into houses of worship and sanctuary?

    “The Greater St. Mark Church was raided today as St. Louis County Police thought that protesters were spending the night in the church, which has been used as a staging area for protestors. Police have since closed the building and stated that if anyone congregates on the premises at night, there would be arrests. One member of theDream Defenders said “what [the police] did today is tell us, what? There is no safety here.”

  • Jim Reed

    God seems to be a function of the collective conscience of the group of people who believe in that God. The way it works is they get together, and kind of cross convince each other that the group understands the God stuff, and the more deeply the group believes it is right the better they can continue to convince themselves they are right.

    I don’t think this has anything to do with the Ferguson problem. I think that is just a section of the country where they still don’t like black people.

  • phatkhat

    I used to live/work in St. Louis. It’s incredibly racist. We were looking for a house, and we had realtors say things like, “Oh, that area is very URBAN – you don’t want to look there!” and “I won’t show you that house. You wouldn’t fit the neighborhood.” It so happened that both areas were mixed race, and I had friends from work living there who liked the neighborhoods. And when I took a job at a school deep in the ‘hood, I got a lot of incredulous “You work WHERE??” comments.

    You are right. My parents were part of the white flight of the 50s/60s, and they were racists, too. It’s sad, it’s sick, and we ought to all be better than that by now. Obviously we aren’t. Sigh.

  • RevFun

    Is “raid” to strong a word? According to the one witness, the police came in mass, but did not enter the building, nor arrest or question anyone. However, their claim that they were investigating whether the building was breaking occupancy laws doesn’t hold–20 officers to investigate a zoning issue? I don’t know if it was an actual “raid” but it sounds like intimidation was the goal.

  • Christopher

    What is the difference between the Cops participating in the sickening prayer and having a prayer before Congress? Both intend to violates the rights of We the People. Hopefully the Cop that MURDERED that young man will be bought to trail and convicted. It has been documented that Churches are being recruited to get there people to obey the Cops and police EVEN when their rights are being violated. They are told they can sue later but to obey NOW. This is 100% opposite of what the Founding Fathers believed.

    “It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much… to forget it.” –James Madison

    Violations of rights must be confronted IMMEDIATELY.

    If the Cops and government do not obey the law then…

    “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” –Benjamin Franklin

    “The oppressed should rebel, and they will continue to rebel and raise disturbance until their civil rights are fully restored to them and all partial distinctions, exclusions and incapacitations are removed.” –Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Religion, 1776 AD

    “Does the government fear us? Or do we fear the government? When the people fear the government, tyranny has found victory. The federal government is our servant, not our master!” –Thomas Jefferson

    “Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms [of government] those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” –Thomas Jefferson, Bill for the More General diffusion of Knowledge (1778).

  • Christopher

    How do you get off looking like a stud in a bicycle helmet when the rest of us look like geeky whip? Is that fair?

    Most churches lost their sovereign rights when they became subjects of the government by applying for 501(c)3 status. You cannot serve two masters. The churches should know that.

  • Christopher

    “Does the government fear us? Or do we fear the government? When the people fear the government, tyranny has found victory. The federal government is our servant, not our master!” –Thomas Jefferson

    The church feared the government.

  • Christopher

    I live in what can only be called the rich section of little Mexico. The billboards are in Spanish and the grocery stores are filled with Mexican foods. English is the second language here. It is also a high crime area. My grandchildren are Black, Chinese, Polynesian and European. That does not mean that I cannot see the differences in the Black/Mexican Getto Welfare housing 15 blocks east and Little Mexico where I am and Chinatown and White flight central in a big circle on the edge away from the inner city.

    In little Mexico I lock my doors, own big dogs, keep my weapons handy and lock my steel bars in front of the doors because there have been 4 home invasions in this area within the last 6 months and many thefts. Not so much in the White and Asian sections of town. Although that has changed since the housing crash and the government started Section 8 housing in rich neighborhoods. No one in their right mind even drives on the Getto section of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. All the large stores in that area closed up shop because the cost of remaining open was too high. That is not racist. That is being aware of the facts.

    The biggest problem is I cannot call the police since they are nothing but criminals with badges. Our government has become more dangerous than the common criminals.

  • Christopher

    My God is but one of many. Your god could be football or government or… Most Americans worship the government today. In government and Social Security they trust.

    1 Samuel 8:7 And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

    But my God is mine and He has given me and my family many miracles. The key is to follow His teachings and then He will help you. If you don’t follow Him then He doesn’t take time to look for you where you have gone. That is what has happened with the Churches. They were told they cannot follow two masters and then they went ahead and became Corporations placing themselves under the law and also applied for 501(c)3 status when they were already tax exempt.

    Why would God help churches and people that reject Him and ask instead for government help?

    15 And now the Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities; nevertheless the Lord did hear their cries, and began to soften the hearts of the Lamanites that they began to ease their burdens; yet the Lord did not see fit to deliver them out of bondage.

  • phatkhat

    The crime problem is not racial, it is class and poverty. Unfortunately, in America, the definition becomes blurred, since those who are poorest are too often brown-skinned people. Which is a result of institutional racism. It is a vicious cycle, and it must be broken – for ALL of us to prosper.

  • Christopher

    I agree. The government’s policies of institutionalized socialism and the welfare state have encouraged people of color to stay poor. Tons of regulations make it impossible to pick yourself up. You need to have money to start a business. Businesses can no longer be started in a garage or you are in violation of some regulation, insurance requirements or federal tax law. These are SHUT UP and STAY POOR laws.

    Hatred of the police is justified as they are not treated equally. Driving while Black is a common reason for being stopped and frisked. If you complain you are arrested for disturbing the peace or interfering with and officer (one of the Cops’ favorites). It is abhorrent.

    The Federal Reserve is theft and makes a few people superrich while stealing from the poor and middle class. Saving FRNs means losing buying power. The Social Security tax is regressive, evil and established as institutionalized slavery. Government schools are established to keep serfs as serfs which is why government schools were originally begun in Europe. Forth generation welfare families are the fault of government policies. Blacks, especially, are being destroyed by the government. It is, to me, very intentional and disgusting.

    Romney’s family ( I despise them by the way) were attacked by the Black’s in the media, because they adopted a Black child, because the child would not be allowed to have the “American Black Experience.” I NEVER want my grandchildren to experience the “American Black Experience” and neither do their Black grandparents.

  • Jim Reed

    You are out of date saying god is football or government. As of now we have a better god, SpaceX.

  • Christopher

    I said it was some people’s god. And government is the #1 god in America and Europe. No questions about it.

    In America it is identified as “sacred trust” “sacred pact between the generations” “sacred obligation” etc. with America’s established unconstitutional civic religion of socialism.

  • phatkhat

    So are you just a rather radical libertarian, or are you a “sovereign citizen”? Since you seem to lay every ill we face at the doorstep of the government, maybe you are the latter.

    First of all, the government is much closer to fascism than to socialism, and moving further every day. Corporate oligarchs pull the strings of the puppet government. We exist at their whim.

    POOR people are kept poor, regardless of their race. I live in a rural area where blacks are rare, and the ones that are here are pretty much middle class retirees. But poverty is very much an issue, and we have many white families trapped in the so-called cycle of poverty.

    Getting out of poverty, for anyone, but especially minorities, is very hard to do. Starting a business in your garage takes a lot more than compliance with zoning, taxes, etc. It takes an entrepreneurial mindset. Not something our kids are encouraged to have. They won’t make good, desperate minimum wage workers for the Kochs and Waltons if they do.

    I’m not sure how you think Social Security is a bad thing. A lot of seniors – including myself – would be in a pickle without it. Pensions are gone. Replaced with 401Ks, which are the REAL scam. I know. I lost a bundle in one of the crashes. And if you get sick, or for some reason can’t work and pay in… you have NOTHING when you are old. Social Security is one of the best things we have, here.

    We as a species evolved to cooperate. If we don’t, we will doom ourselves. Maybe we already have. And if there is one overarching culprit worldwide, it is … religion.

  • Christopher

    Communism is a religion. So is Marxism, Maoism, Naziism, Fascism, Atheism. Any philosophy that sets a moral or ethical standard in a person’s life and has an “ultimate reality” is a religion BY LAW. I despise the religion you accept as a good thing. The “Sacred obligation,” “Sacred trust,” “Sacred pact between the generations,” and the “Sacred Covenant” of Social Security is nothing but government sponsored establishment of religion. So when you state: “there is one overarching culprit worldwide, it is … religion.” I agree completely and have been fighting against paying tithing to YOUR Sacred Trust religion for 35 years. And winning by the way. My children are not your slaves. You have to extract your Social Security tithing Checks from other people’s kids and grandkids. Not mine.

    I am a person who has been crippled by the police. Got to interview those police and their bosses under oath and see how they were poorly trained, trained to lie, did not know the law or the Constitution on such basic things like when it was legal to pat down a suspect. Of the 9 Cops I got to depose not a single one knew that a person was required to be a suspect and that they had to be considered BOTH armed and dangerous before they could legally be frisked. None knew that only one county had a handgun registration law and not a single officer had read the State Constitution they swore and oath to protect and defend. Their ignorance was frightening.

    I am VERY frustrated that there is no good name for what the U.S. government is. A Corporatist Neo-Fascist State is probably the closest but that really does not properly name it. A “Banker Puppet State” could be closer. Socialist is the most commonly used term so I use Fascist, Marxist, Socialist, Welfare State interchangeably. But don’t really like any of those names. What we are more than anything is a Nation of Voluntary Ignorant Slaves.

    Poor are indeed kept poor. Business regulations and license, insurance, ObamaCare, OSHA, Etc. make it nearly impossible for a person to lift themselves up. Work for a huge Corporation and you are an indentured servant no less than if you worked for an old Company Store Mine.

    Social Security has been repeatedly called a “Sacred Trust” for Obama to McCain to FDR. It is hereditary bondage on children. You are NOT receiving what you paid in that was kept in trust. Every cent you paid in as a TAX was spent. SCOTUS declared Social Security to be nothing more than any other type of welfare. So you are on government welfare. You are now having the government STEAL from the younger generation. It is an unconstitutional establishment of religion. You cannot have a tax for a SACRED anything. Amish and other religious groups that take care of themselves and don’t retire at 65 on other people’s money and they get along just fine without it. We all make choices. I made mine. I accept NO government personal benefits. NONE.

    You are correct. Our children are not encouraged to have an “entrepreneurial mindset.” The 10th plank of the Communist Manifesto is Free Government schools. Of course the children are not taught to have an “entrepreneurial mindset.” The SYSTEM wants them working at Waltons and Wal-Mart. The SYSTEM is working exactly as it was planned. Read the 10 planks of the Communist Manifesto. The U.S. closely follows most of them.

  • cgosling

    The picture of a group of police praying together makes me wonder: How many of them are Christian? How many Christian police have shot and brutally assaulted civilians? How many Christian police are racially predjudice against African Americans? Does Christianity help policemen and women do their jobs? Can we blame non-believers within the police force for the brutality we see within its ranks? Answers: most of them, many of them, most of them, no.

  • Andre M

    If it helps elucidate Christopher’s particular insanity, he is a Mormon extremist.

  • marshall

    Anybody wgo thinks they are clothed in God’s armor, they are more than welcom to face down the molotov cocktail throwing anarchists while the police and state troopers go home to their families and get to second guess somebody else’s decisions on tv.

  • Frank6548

    The only people who have to fear the police are criminals.

  • jfigdor

    The idea of having a prayer at the beginning of a press conference is an insult to secular Americans, only slightly less shameful than the idea of covering your naked prejudice behind public piety.