The wages of fighting sin

Arrest: A Pennsylvania minister is unrepentant after his soul-saving efforts on The Block land him in jail.

June 05, 2000|By John Rivera and Peter Hermann | John Rivera and Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Like many before him, Jack Graham was arrested recently for his behavior on The Block, Baltimore's red-light district.

His crime? Handing out tracts to passers-by, inviting them to give their lives to Jesus Christ.

Graham is a York, Pa., pastor who has been coming to town each Friday night for 13 years to save souls at the corner of Baltimore and Holliday streets. He was arrested last month and charged with loitering for handing out religious tracts.

Undeterred, he's still coming back.

"I was kind of shocked, really," Graham said. "Police officers had come up before and told me I should stop because some club owners had complained about us being there. But that's the first time a police officer did anything like that."

Graham, who leads Jesus Is Alive Ministries, was at his usual post the night of May 13, handing out tracts with his friend, Roger Farmer. About 10 p.m., Graham said he saw Kenneth Holland, the owner of the Stage Door show bar, with whom he has clashed in the past, walk over and speak to Officer Tony McKoy.

"He said something to [McKoy], patted him on the back and walked back to his club," Graham said.

McKoy then confronted Graham, the pastor said.

"He told me I wasn't allowed to pass out tracts," Graham said. "I just said to him, `It's our constitutional right to pass out literature.' He said, `Well, I said you're not allowed to do it.' "

As the two men spoke, someone strolling down the sidewalk approached them, Graham said.

"I just naturally put my hand out to hand out a tract," Graham said. "And he [McKoy] grabbed hold of my tracts and started pulling on them.

"I just held onto them. And he said, `Oh, resisting arrest.' And he grabbed ahold of me and put me in an armlock, threw me down on the cement there and threw handcuffs on me."

McKoy, the arresting officer, wrote in his report that several people had complained about Graham's and Farmer's aggressive proselytizing.

When McKoy told the men they could not block the sidewalk, Graham "stated that he had a right to stand wherever he wanted and could hand out literature as much as he wanted, because it was a public street," McKoy wrote.

After McKoy said he warned them again, the men "both stated that they were working for the Lord and that they were not going to move."

As Graham attempted to hand another tract to a passer-by, who "pulled his hand back, stating that he didn't want it," McKoy arrested the pastor, according to his report. When Farmer also refused to move, he was arrested, too.

Holland, owner of the Stage Door, denied notifying police about Graham. He said Graham's group routinely blocks sidewalks while trying to force people to take literature.

"The city is clamping down on people who shouldn't be on the corners. They are permitted on one corner, and they use three," said Holland. "I'm trying to keep my own people from being arrested for standing outside and advertising."

The bar owner said the evangelists use bullhorns to call his strippers "whores" and "tramps" as they walk in and out of the club. Holland, who said he is a Southern Baptist, called members of Graham's group "zealots of some kind. What they profess and what they do are two different things. These people are just overboard."

Sgt. Craig Gentile, who runs the Central District vice unit, which includes The Block, said Graham's group is "99 percent of the time within their rights." But, he added, recently they have started to move off a corner and walk down the crowded streets, stopping people to distribute literature.

Gentile, who usually works in plain clothes, said he says "no thanks" as he walks by the group, refusing their literature.

"They have followed me down the street calling me a sinner," he said.

After their arrests, Graham and Farmer were taken to the Central District, and then to Central Booking and Intake Center. Farmer was released about 3 a.m. Graham was held for 23 hours, he said.

Farmer declined to comment.

Graham, who was back on The Block Friday night, said he will not be daunted.

"I know there are people bound up with the pornography and sexual lust down there. I've prayed for those men," Graham said. "When they see us, they know they need help. And we know that God's also for them."

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