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.