Hundreds of people protesting the death of Michael Brown and other fatal police shootings in Missouri and elsewhere stood inches from officers in riot gear late Friday before demonstrators dissipated, anticipating a long weekend of events.
Organizers of the four-day Ferguson October events expected 6,000 participants, but the initial protest Friday outside the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office in Clayton didn’t draw nearly that amount. Later Friday, tensions increased, with hundreds of protesters gathering outside the Ferguson Police Department and chanting anti-police remarks such as, “Killer cops, KKK, how many kids did you kill today?” as a wall of about 100 officers in riot gear stood near them.
Soon after, most of the crowd left, with organizers urging people to avoid arrest so that they could come back for more protests throughout the weekend.
The following is a statement by Rev. David Gerth, Executive Director of Metropolitan Congregations United, MCU.
Last night helicopters flew over my house in the Shaw neighborhood. We saw an armored vehicle, tear gas and police in riot gear brought out in response to a mostly peaceful protest.
I thought about my wife, my house, my vehicles, but I walked with the protesters last night because I feel there is an infection in this city that must be acknowledged.
If this happens in response to roughly 200 demonstrators, what might happen this weekend when an expected 5,000 demonstrators come to St. Louis?
We caution the area’s law enforcement officials to err on the side of caution and use less – not more – intimidating military hardware. The use of this equipment often seems to backfire and inflame the outrage of citizens who are, for the most part, protesting peacefully.
However, we must acknowledge that during much of the night on Wednesday and Thursday, the St Louis Police Department did protect the protesters’ ability to express their opinion.
Also, protesters only hurt themselves when they let their anger spill over and destroy property and hurt others.
People can, and should, use their First Amendment rights to push for reforms. Protesting is an honorable and often effective American tradition. Deeply-rooted injustices are never remedied by people who sit home on their couches.
But in response, police should use restraint so that voices of legitimate outrage are not silenced by excessive shows of force.
We need to stress that for us, as people of faith, the end is not in doubt. This gives us hope to participate in this struggle. We have certainty that God is moving through these protesters. Our question for our congregations and our community is: Are you going to stand on the side of justice or are you going to stand on the side of oppression?
What is being revealed is tension about the systems of racism and injustice. The faith community in St. Louis should respect and support the raising of these issues, just as we did in the 60s. Dr. Martin Luther King’s letter from the Birmingham jail reminds us, the oppressor does not give up power unless the oppressed demand it.
The role of clergy is to de-escalate without shutting down young protesters. We deplore violence whether by aggressive protesters or by aggressive police. The role of clergy and other faith leaders is to be witnesses to non-violence.
Our witness speaks out of our strong faith.
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