A pastor watering his neighbor’s flowers wouldn’t normally make national news, but in Childersburg, Ala., such an act of generosity resulted in an arrest and a story on National Public Radio. The story later made The New York Times.
Michael Jennings, pastor of Vision of Abundant Life Church in Sylacauga, Ala., told NPR he was doing a neighborly deed of watering his out-of-town neighbor’s flowers May 22, as they had requested. And then a police officer showed up because another neighbor had reported Jennings as a “suspicious person.”
His crime: Watering flowers while Black.
“I’m supposed to be here. I’m Pastor Jennings. I live across the street. I’m looking out for their house while they’re gone, watering their flowers,” Jennings told the officer with Childersburg Police Department. The scene was documented by NPR in body camera footage of his arrest.
Nevertheless, officers arrested Jennings — who, ironically, is a former police officer himself — placed him in the back of a police car and later charged him with obstructing government operations.
“This video makes it clear that these officers decided they were going to arrest Pastor Jennings less than five minutes after pulling up and then tried to rewrite history claiming he hadn’t identified himself when that was the first thing he did,” Harry Daniels, an Atlanta-based attorney representing Jennings, told NPR. “It’s irrational, irresponsible and illegal.”
The 20-minute exchange captured on video shows Jennings and the officer shouting, with Jennings explaining he has done nothing wrong. Finally, he says: “You want to lock me up, lock me up. … Lock me up and see what happens. I want you to.”
Even before the police car drove away with Jennings to arrest him, the neighbor who called to report a suspicious person told police officers she now recognized him: “He lives right there, and he would be watering their flowers. This is probably my fault.”
Nevertheless, the pastor still was arrested and charged. The charges against Jennings were later dismissed by a judge, but the humiliation could not be erased.
Last week, Jennings filed a federal lawsuit against three officers and the town of Childersburg, alleging the officers violated his constitutional rights and caused lingering problems including emotional distress and anxiety.
He seeks a jury trial and an unspecified amount of money.
Associated Press reported that Jennings’ lawyers held a news conference outside the Birmingham federal courthouse on Saturday, Sept. 10, to discuss the lawsuit.
“I’m here for accountability, and I’m here for justice,” Jennings said.
The Childersburg Police Department has not commented on the matter.
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