By Bob Allen
Four of the 57 people arrested Aug. 10 in a peaceful protest outside a federal courthouse in St. Louis were part of an eight-member Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America delegation in Ferguson, Mo., there to observe the one-year anniversary of the Aug. 9, 2014, police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan issued a statement saying the arrests were for “obstructing the normal use” of entrances to the Thomas Eagleton Federal Courthouse. They occurred during an “otherwise peaceful and nonviolent” march by about 200 protestors through downtown St. Louis in a day of civil disobedience dubbed “Moral Monday.”
“Four members of our delegation to Ferguson took part in civil disobedience (a.k.a. holy obedience) during today’s Moral Monday actions and were arrested,” reported a posting on the BPFNA Facebook page. “All did so willingly and knowingly.”
Others, including Allison Paksoy, communications manager for the Charlotte, N.C., network that also brands in Spanish Bautistas por la Paz, were part of a “jail support” team who waited while protestors — including philosopher and activist Cornel West, top leaders of the Black Lives Matter protest movement and Osagyefo Sekou, a pastor of First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Mass., dispatched to Missouri by the Fellowship of Reconciliation — were processed and released.
BPFNA Executive Director LeDayne McLeese Polaski identified the four arrested delegation members as Martha Kearse, Tremaine Sails-Dunbar, Barbara Smalley-McMahan and Alexis Tardy.
Kearse, associate minister at St. John’s Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., and Smalley-McMahan, a pastoral counselor and American Baptist minister active in previous Moral Monday protests in North Carolina, are long-time BPFNA members. Sails-Dunbar, a senior at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tenn., and Tardy, a recent graduate of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and former intern in the office of Congressman André Carson (D-Ind.), are newcomers to the organization.
The group arrived in Ferguson Aug. 6 representing BPFNA’s response to a national call issued by Ferguson Action for participation in #fightback365, a week of training, education and direct action marking the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. It’s part of an effort by a working group to build support for Black Lives Matter in member congregations in connection with a yearlong theme of “crossing borders.”
The visit started quietly with a public dialogue between activists from Baltimore and Ferguson at Christ Church Cathedral but turned chaotic after shots were fired during a Sunday night demonstration.
Kadia Edwards, a BPFNA board member from Durham, N.C., was nearby when police shot and critically wounded Tyrone Harris Jr, 18, who was not part of the protest but was in the crowd when shots were exchanged between rival groups and allegedly fired a gun at police.
“She requests prayers for herself and for the delegation — they are understandably shaken by the night’s events,” the Facebook posting continued. “Pray for everyone’s physical, spiritual and emotional well-being. Pray for change. Pray for justice.”
On Monday St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger declared a state of emergency, authorizing Police Chief Jon Belmar to “exercise all powers and duties necessary to preserve order, prevent crimes and protect the life and property of our citizens.”
In all, more than 100 people were arrested over a day of demonstrations, including 22 detained overnight after police used pepper spray to clear protestors from West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson. Police said some in the crowd threw rocks and frozen water bottles at officers, but no major injuries were reported.