The people of God are Protest People. God called our ancestors to protest the wickedness of slavery and eventually, after God’s public display of disruption and liberative violence, they were led out of Egypt to their eventual freedom. In the incarnation, Jesus Christ himself stood against the evil powers of this world and plunged into its depths of wickedness then rose from the dead to declare it powerless. The New Heaven and New Earth itself is protected from destructive powers as the manifestations of evil surround the city, the Lamb comes to defeat the workers of lawlessness. (1)
Unbeknownst to the writers of the United States Constitution, they crafted into a corrupt system of laws the protection of the right to protest its injustice. The first amendment of the United States Constitution declares “freedom of speech… the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” (2) It was understood that the right to assemble was in a way, the bedrock to other freedoms and Abraham Lincoln claimed “the right of peaceable assembly” was part of “the Constitutional substitute for revolution.”(3)
While the founders tried to protect some americans (aka citizens deemed more valuable by the government) from the nightmare of British monarchical tyranny, government also reserves the power to manipulate these freedoms, thus restricting the very freedoms they claim to promote.
The Supreme Court has often limited the right to protest and the freedom of speech. In the 1969 case of Shuttlesworth v Birmingham, the Supreme Court ruled cities and other jurisdictions have the right to deny the request of a permit to protest as long as they have “compelling, objective reason to do so.”(4) Twenty years later, in the case of Ward v. Rock Against Racism, the court ruled a jurisdiction has the right to control the volume of a protest.(5) In this same case, the Supreme Court also found that protesters did not need a permit in the case of response to breaking news. Even the notoriously overbearing court system promotes the necessity of the disruption of routine procedure in order to air our grievances. These rights are God-given and even affirmed by the American legal system. This is why protesters were perfectly within their rights to protest at Ferguson and have the right to protest now. The government can only legally restrict the rights of protesters in particular ways, but their actions can influence perceptions. Government can both legally incite violence, and control a narrative which manipulates the appearance of violence when it does not exist.
What we are seeing now is a long campaign of deception on the part of the mayor of St. Louis and the governor of Missouri. “The National Guard exists to protect life and property and preserves peace, order and public safety. These missions are accomplished through emergency-relief support during natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and forest fires; search and rescue operations; support to civil defense authorities; maintenance of vital public services and counter-drug operations.”(6) Yet, the Governor had the National Guard on standby, even though there was no evidence of impending violence, before the verdict in Jason Stockley’s case was given. By announcing the National Guard’s potential involvement, Governor Greitens was beginning to craft a narrative days before protesters walk the streets that were lawfully theirs. An elected state official may be removed from the needs and desires of the people of this city, but the mayor has blatantly used the exposure of her position to deceive and oppose those openly lamenting injustice and death in our city.
Following the long-standing convention of a deceptively oppressive government, Mayor Krewson spoke days before the verdict was announced, “Protest is a cornerstone of our democracy. That said, law enforcement will do its job and follow the proper protocols to stop unlawful behavior and de-escalate situations as needed. Anyone intent on violence and vandalism toward people or property will be arrested.”(7) Unfortunately for the protesters of injustice, local police are not properly trained in de-escalation nor have they displayed the ability to practice actions necessary of an “officer of the law.” The laws and narratives are already coerced against protesters, and the mere presence of the people in their own streets should act as a reminder to Lyda that police officers are unprepared and unable to protect these same people. It should also be noted the Mayor’s language betrays her thinly veiled facade of compassion. “Law enforcement will do its job” may be a deeply necessary statement insofar as their job is the protection of the people. However, when she describes the the verdict as an “order”, it’s a message to Smith’s family and other impacted citizens that public lament and impatience after six years of waiting will only to be met by riot shields and threats of gas. This is hardly a comforting statement. We now know the threat of teargas was made manifest by hundreds of officers in military costumes blatantly abusing law abiding citizens.
People of God, we are Protest People. Scripture warns us of malicious leaders, “your tongue plots destruction like a sharp razor, you workers of deceit.” (8) While we are not surprised by this belated miscarriage of justice, we must not be silent in response to it. The semantics of entrapment are not new. In manipulating a story to make Black people seem violent, elected officials are doing nothing outside of the American tradition. Rendering our freedoms useless with continual restrictions and treacherous semantics is our nation’s heritage. Yet, we are forged by a supreme love. Sisters and brothers, we come from a truth-telling people. Their courage and glory runs through our veins still. Unfortunately for our oppressors, we are a people who overcome.
We gon’ be alright.
Endnotes / / 1. Revelation 20:9 | 2. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” U.S. Const. Amend. I (emphasis added), available here. | 3. Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Alexander H. Stephens (Jan. 19, 1860), in UNCOLLECTED LETTERS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN 127 (Gilbert A. Tracy ed., 1917). In the same letter, Lincoln also wrote: “[T]he right of peaceable assembly and of petition and by article Fifth of the Constitution, the right of amendment, is the Constitutional substitute for revolution. Here is our Magna Carta not wrested by Barons from King John, but the free gift of states to the nation they create . . . .” Id | 4. Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, 394 U.S. 147 (1969). | 5. Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781. (1989). | 6. The National Guard Association of the United States. https://www.ngaus.org/advocating-national-guard/evolving-role-citizen-soldier | 7. Godfrey, Timothy. Kmov.com St. Louis, http://www.kmov.com/story/36370739/mayor-krewson-issues-public-statement-regarding-stockley-verdict. Updated: Sep 14, 2017 6:26 PM CDT | 8. Psalm 52:2 ESV