By Rev. Christine Pennington-Stancil, 5th Episcopal District
As I was standing in the midst of the scene of a police state, a sense of brokenness overwhelmed me. By now, it was somewhere between 8:55 am and 9:05 am and it finally happened. Phones began to light up on the steps and sidewalk, people heard the verdict on the news, and they were calling and texting one another. Former officer Jason Stockley was free. There we were, approximately 25 of us, surrounded by bars of barricades. Police officers were on every corner. Although we were standing outside, steel metal bars of denial surrounded us. Yet, Jason Stockley was free! This is what being black in America looks like
We had been judged on the outside of the courtroom that day. Strategies were put in place to make us feel “fearful” of the empire that had once again denied a black man’s humanity. You learn a lot by leaving the walls of the church and putting scripture into practice in the town square. That day, I found a new way of looking at 2 Timothy 1:7. Something began to take a hold of at least six of us that morning as we clutched arms and began to chant, “No Justice, No Peace!” Clearly, the fear the empire intended to instill in us became righteous indignation. We took our chanting to the street as onlookers began to chant with us. Fearlessly we chanted, “No Justice, No Peace!” Minutes passed and our chanting grew louder. A few more fearless people joined us; and within hours, hundreds of people were chanting various phrases to bring attention to injustice.
Weeks prior to the verdict, clergy leaders, faith-based organizers, and activists gathered to determine what a united response should look like once a decision was given. No matter the verdict, even if Jason Stockley had received a sentence, it was unanimous that we would institute an economic boycott. Our goal was to send a message either way that black people must stop being sentenced to death on the on the streets of St. Louis. The next plan was to strategically target sectors in the city that could be shut down for maximum economic impact. Two weeks into our demonstrations, we have already adversely impacted the city economically to the tune of $12 million.
It is now day 16 of the protest and many have been arrested, beaten, pepper sprayed, hog-tied, and tasered by the police. Yet, night after night, we press on! We press on in the name of Anthony Lamar Smith and every black person that has been murdered with impunity at the hands of law enforcement. We press on despite death threats and the numerous calls of intimidation that various clergy, activists, and faith leaders receive every day. We press on in spite of family members refusing to understand the call on our lives to fight. We press on when we are tired. We press on when we receive phone calls in the middle of the night that AME clergy and YPD have been attacked by the police and denied adequate care while in custody. We press on because the word of God instructs us to do so. Isaiah 59:15-16 says, “Truth is lacking, and whoever turns from evil is despoiled. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm brought him victory, and his righteousness upheld him.”
Many in St. Louis and surrounding cities have declared that we will not be the “no ones.” We will intervene. We will stand up, march, shout, and scream with our last breath until justice is no longer denied.
In an overreaching of force and for the purposes of intimidating the protestors, the city is paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime pay to police officers and compensation to the National Guard. This is not to mention the wages paid to county police and other officials working overtime. It has been rumored that the city budget is overwhelmed by the daily protesting. Our message is simple, “You kill our kids, we kill your economy!” We are challenging the system to answer this question, “How far will you go to favor injustice?” Or, “How much are you willing to lose economically to cover up wrongdoings of one to harm the many?” We want the families of officers who are working double shifts and missing so much time away from home to ask the question, “Was Jason Stockley worth it?” We want business owners and mall owners who have lost business due to demonstrators to ask the question, “Was Jason Stockley worth it?” We want the prevailing hesitation to be on every officer’s mind that if I kill with impunity, how will it impact my community? The black community has been devastated by police actions for years. It is time for bureaucrats and those in blue to realize what it feels like to live in uncertainty.
A week after the verdict, a resolution was introduced by the head of the Board of Alderman’s to equip police officers with body cameras. The demonstrators showed up in large number and because of activism and demands, body cameras for police officers will finally be a reality in St. Louis.
Justice may have escaped once again but what we’ve learned is that you can’t expect justice by waiting on the sidelines. The unfortunate reality is it will never be given to people who look like me. It must be demanded. It must be a demand that comes in the only form that the empire of injustice recognizes. It’s the way we say it on the street, “If we don’t get it (justice), we will shut it down!”
We encourage you to join us in your state for upcoming economic boycotts. Please curtail your shopping or refuse to shop on Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Thank you! #stlverdict
The Rev. Christine Pennington-Stancil is a local elder serving at Wayman AME Church in St. Louis, Missouri.