Baltimore pastor arrested at Ferguson protest

(Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun )
October 13, 2014|By Justin George and Justin Fenton | The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore pastor Jamal H. Bryant was among protesters arrested in Ferguson, Mo., on Monday, as he and other clergy demonstrated against police brutality and misconduct.

Bryant was on the front lines of a crowd of hundreds of protesters and faith leaders marching from a church to the Police Department in Ferguson, the town where unarmed teenager Michael Brown was fatally shot by police two months ago.

In a tweet posted Monday afternoon, Bryant said he had been released.

"Just released from St Louis county!" the message read. "We are being charged with assaulting police & disturbing the peace #NoJusticeNoPeace"

Demonstrators gathered in the pouring rain, and several were arrested at the Ferguson Police Department where protesters sang "We Shall Overcome," an anthem of the civil rights movement half a century ago, and others chanted: "No justice, no peace."

Protesters attempted to shut down a street in front of Emerson Electric in St. Louis, holding signs reading: "Black lives matter" and other slogans. Some demonstrators tried to block an intersection in Ferguson, while others gathered at Soldiers Memorial Park and some marched on St. Louis City Hall.

In a statement, St. Louis County police said 19 people were arrested at two protest sites.

In an interview late Monday, Bryant said his arrest began when he and a group of other pastors and rabbis called for the police of Ferguson to "repent for being an evil citizen." The group of protesters then called out the names of more than 300 people who have been killed by police nationwide, and then he said they prayed for forgiveness for churches and other religious institutions that Bryant said hadn't done enough on the issue.

The protesters drew a chalk outline around the body of a demonstrator, lit candles and then approached a wall of police officers guarding the Ferguson police department.

Bryant said the group told police they were going to enter to speak with a police commander inside. Bryant said the officers did not respond with any warning that they should not enter.

"We were never told to move back, never given a warning," Bryant said. "So we just moved forward, and as soon as we moved forward, our hands were placed around our back and we were arrested."

He said police should have communicated with protesters instead of arresting them.

"Say something," he said. "If in fact we were yelling, screaming, looting, then that would make some sense."

But he said demonstrators said "nothing disrespectful."

He said he was charged with third-degree assault against a police officer and disturbing the peace.

Among those also charged at the police station was activist and professor Cornel West. Police gave a different story than Bryant, saying the protesters had told officers they wanted to be arrested. They were not taken into custody until they "started bumping police officers' shields and eventually forcing through the police skirmish line," according to the police statement. Police said a full list of those arrested would be released later.

Bryant said he did not intend to get arrested.

"That was not my original intention," he said. "I knew we were engaging in civil disobedience in the model of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. In my heart of hearts, I did not think as clergy we were going to be arrested."

The protests were part of a series of "Ferguson October" events and demonstrations in response to frustration over Brown's shooting and broader concerns about police brutality and profiling. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that more than 100 clergy members from around the country took part.

Numerous protests have been held in the two months since the Aug. 9 killing of the 18-year-old Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson. Protesters want Wilson arrested and have called for the appointment of a special prosecutor. The U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation into Brown's death.

Bryant, who has a national following and serves as pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, has spoken about the Brown case and hosted Brown's parents at an appearance at his church last month. He also recently hosted a forum at the church on the topic of police brutality.

Reuters contributed to this article.

jfenton@baltsun.com


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