As Clergy Join Ferguson Protesters, Capt. Ron Johnson Says He Wants Dialogue

Sep 30, 2014 at 11:27 am
click to enlarge Several clergy members kneel down in prayer in front of the Ferguson Police Department. - Ray Downs
Ray Downs
Several clergy members kneel down in prayer in front of the Ferguson Police Department.

Protesters gathered in front of the Ferguson Police Department again Monday night, refusing to move from the street, despite warnings from the police that they would be arrested. But after Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson arrived on the scene, police largely held back, and only one man -- a pastor -- was arrested after a night where several clergy members came out to support the Ferguson protesters.

Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, a St. Louis native who is the pastor at the First Baptist Church in Boston, was arrested for "failure to disperse" after he knelt down to pray in front of the police station in an act of civil disobedience.

The arrest came not long after several clergy members knelt down to pray in front of the police station with protesters behind them. Some protesters joined in prayer and hymns. Several police officers looked on as one warned protesters and clergy to move onto the sidewalk or face arrest.

Many protesters and clergy thought a mass arrest would ensue, but police restrained any action at first. After the group prayer, Sekou returned to pray, and police handcuffed him and held him in a van for a few hours.

Upon his release at approximately 1 a.m., Sekou told Daily RFT why he did what he did, knowing that arrest was a likely outcome.

"It's a juxtaposition of a clergy member being arrested for praying at the police station versus one praying for the police in these instances where clergy have been complicit with the empire," he said. "And what we find now is that these clergy that are out here are committed to standing with young people, calling out police brutality and being deeply committed to ensuring that Mike Brown gets justice."

click to enlarge Rev. Sekou (bottom left)
Rev. Sekou (bottom left)

The presence of the clergy at Monday night's protest had mixed reactions from protesters. Some wondered where they have been since the beginning of the protests that erupted after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in August.

"This is my first time seeing the clergy response out here. It really didn't mean anything to me," said protester Adrian Hubbard. He added that he suspected the clergy was trying to take advantage of something that has gained national attention. See also: Ferguson Protesters, Including the Lost Voices, Get Kicked Out of Protest Sites

"A lot of people have an agenda, lot of people out here for PR purposes," he said. "The police are reacting a certain way because of PR purposes -- they're desperate for good PR. The clergy response here is definitely out here for good PR and photo ops."

But others were glad the clergy were present and said that their presence had a cooling effect on some of the more emotional protesters.

"A lot of the protesters aren't appreciative as they should be because the clergy is trying to keep the peace and some of the protesters are not because they're trying to agitate the situation," said protester Aja Johnson."Some of them don't like the clergy because it goes against their message."

She added: "I just think the man who led the prayer, the way he seemed truly anointed, so I'm thinking God led them out here."

The man she was talking about was Reverend Sekou, who led the group prayer before eventually getting arrested. Hours later when he was let go, the protest had dwindled down to just a few dozen protesters with police largely held back, leaning against vehicles.

But in the hours before, tensions were high as a large group of protesters refused to move from the street, arms locked, and in defiance of the police who warned them they would be arrested if they didn't move back to the sidewalk.

As police formed a standoff line, some wearing riot gear, almost all holding batons, the protesters became more adamant. Tensions increased when three gunshots were heard in the vicinity from about a block away. At that point, police moved back slightly but protesters remained in the street.

Some protesters were blaming police for the gunshots, claiming it was a setup. At one point, a man who many protesters claimed had either fired the shots or was somehow involved, walked through the crowd of protesters and appeared to be antagonizing them.

"Arrest him!" yelled one female protester to the police.

Another man with a camera attempted to film the apparent antagonizer, but was physically threatened if he did not cease recording. The cameraman did not object.

Police soon moved back into standoff formation and tensions again rose. Police blocked off the street corners and protesters on bikes who had been circling the area warned other protesters of police hiding behind buildings ready to come out and make arrests.

"We are not animals!" yelled a female protester. "You do not need a rifle to lock up peaceful protesters! You do not need riot gear or sticks to lock up peaceful protesters!"

But the tense moment loosened when Captain Ron Johnson arrived and ordered the officers to move back.

Protesters cheered and shouted, "This is what democracy looks like!"

Click on the next page for more about the protest with videos...