St. Louis Churches Offer Safe Spaces, Clergy Train in ‘De-Escalation’

A diverse group of peaceful protesters received training in non-violent civil disobedience on Tuesday, November 11 at Greater St. Mark Family Church in Ferguson. (Lawrence Bryant/St. Louis American)
Rev. Osagyefo Sekou trained peaceful protestors in non-violent civil disobedience on Tuesday, November 11 at Greater St. Mark Family Church in Ferguson. (Lawrence Bryant/St. Louis American)
Rev. Osagyefo Sekou trained peaceful protestors in non-violent civil disobedience on Tuesday, November 11 at Greater St. Mark Family Church in Ferguson (Lawrence Bryant/St. Louis American)

 

by Kenya Vaughn, Bridjes O’Neil and Sandra Jordan
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American

Churches throughout the St. Louis region will offer “safe spaces” following the grand jury’s decision on whether to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.

Clergy are among those who are readying the community for what many are expecting to be a non-indictment of Wilson for the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown Jr. on August 9 – and the unrest that is also expected to ensue.

“The churches will have food available if people need to come in off the street and find respite,” said Rev. Renita Lampkin, pastor of St. John AME Church in St. Charles, Missouri. “There will be people who will provide comfort and offer a sense of community.”

Four African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches will serve as safe havens, including St. Luke’s-Elmwood Park, St. James, St. Paul and St. Peters.

On Friday, November 7, the Metropolitan Congregations United Clergy Caucus and Metropolitan Clergy Coalition announced that their confirmed safe spaces include Christ Church Cathedral, Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, Samaritan UMC, First Congregational Church of St. Louis, Webster Groves Christian Church, Epiphany UCC and Central Reform Congregation.

The coalition will also host a prayer service and freedom rally the day of the grand jury announcement, which could be as soon as this Sunday, November 16. The prayer service and rally will be held at 7 p.m. on the day of the announcement at West Side Missionary Baptist Church, 2677 Dunn Rd.

AME clergy urged people to stock up on medication, food, water, working flashlights, batteries and to keep vehicles filled with fuel in case access to basic services and necessities are interrupted due to unrest.

MCU clergy issued a “moral summons” at a press conference on Friday at Central Reform Congregation, reiterating that they stood in solidarity with protestors in the fight for justice for Michael Brown Jr.

“In the wake of the killing of Michael Brown and the violence that has followed, we concerned clergy of St. Louis feel called to consecrate the streets of St. Louis as safe places for all our citizens – and in particular our black and brown children,” said Rev. Dietra Wise Baker, pastor of Liberation Christian Church and co-chair of the MCU Clergy Caucus.

Wise Baker vowed that clergy will be seen and heard in the event of continued unrest.

For more than a month, interfaith clergy leaders from across the St. Louis region have been planning and undergoing “de-escalation training.” Rev. Shaun Jones of Mt. Zion Baptist Church-Christian Complex would not discuss details, but said a non-violent day of action is being planned in Clayton.

Greater St. Mark Family Church has been one of the locations for nonviolent direct action trainings hosted by the Don’t Shoot Coalition, which represents 50 advocacy organizations.

“If you feel like the police need to know when to get ready, don’t you think the community needs to know when to get ready?” said Michael McPhearson, Don’t Shoot Coalition co-chair and executive director of Veterans For Peace.

As he cited a continued lack of transparency on behalf of “the system” with respect to the Michael Brown Jr. case, McPhearson was one of the teachers who stood in the middle of a learning circle with a diameter that spread across the entire gymnasium of the Greater St. Mark Church early on the afternoon of Saturday, November 8.

More than 150 protesters attended the training session to gain insight on how to maintain peace and calm with emotions on high.

“The key to all of this is that we have to be organized and prepared – if we are not organized and prepared, we will suffer defeat and be divided,” protestor and organizer Lisa Fithian.

McPhearson spoke specifically to the older people in the group.

“Trust young people that they know what they’re doing,” McPhearson said. “When you’re out there – especially when you haven’t been out there on a regular basis – and you see the young people really giving the police hell, don’t feel like you need to do something. The young people are not as out of control as you think they are.”

They practiced trust exercises and peaceful tactics to not only maintain calm but also protect each other on the front line of protests, when they face off with police – and agitators (both external and internal).

“Do not rely on law enforcement to help you in this moment,” McPherson warned. “Because the reason we’re at this moment is because of law enforcement.”

The Don’t Shoot Coalition will host two mass meetings to inform people about some basic plans for action on Thursday, Nov. 13 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 15 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. The meetings will be held at two locations simultaneously: Greater St. Mark Church, 9950 Owen Dr., and 2929 S. Jefferson Ave.

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