She saw my collar and asked me to stand and pray with her. She grabbed my hand and walked me through the crowd. Through the front line. And right into the middle. And he grabbed my hand and we were there. Police in full riot gear to my left and chanting, screaming, crying and singing protesters to my right. I was in the middle and held two strangers hands and prayed like crazy.
It was like this for hours.
I don’t know how it got like this. Just a few minutes earlier I had been in my jammies, my kid yelling at me about typing up something for her school for tomorrow. I heard the helicopters growing closer, so I checked the updates on twitter and knew the crowd was approaching. So I grabbed my keys and phone and ran out “just for a minute” in my jammies. I wanted to see with my own eyes what was happening. I watched the police drive ahead and shut down the intersection one block away. I thought it was pretty great of them to stop traffic, to clear the way, to ensure safety of all. To keep the peace, I thought. Then the crowd came walking down the road, both sides of the road and some on the sidewalks. Slowly, spread out. Calmly. Really, not too many of them. Not sure I would even call them a crowd. Someone had a bullhorn but it wasn’t being used. Lots of phones and cameras out recording everything. A couple of cars followed the groups of walkers. There was one group carrying a rather large American flag, except by carrying, I mean dragging it along the pavement. I stood on the corner and prayed and said hello and prayed and told them to be safe. There were a couple of cop cars behind them, keeping them safe from traffic, I thought. I watched them walk to the corner at Grand and Arsenal, just one block south. I walked along the sidewalk that way a bit. But everything was so calm, I decided I didn’t need to make a thing of it. I went home. A block and a half later, I bounded up my stairs, and pulled out my phone to post the pics I’d just taken, and learned that the crowd I’d just been standing with and praying for, got sprayed by cops in riot gear at that intersection I thought was too boring to walk towards.
I didn’t know what to do anymore. I hate guns and want the violence to stop. I want kids to stop shooting at cops and I want cops to stop shooting and killing our kids. I want the break-ins in my neighborhood to stop. I want to walk my dog without worrying that I’m gonna get held up at gunpoint. I want everyone to think that black lives matter; that my kid’s life matters, that all lives matter. I want peace in our city. I want peace in all cities.
I messaged another local pastor, threw on my clergy collar, told the kid to put herself to bed, promised her I wouldn’t do anything dangerous but also told her to call me in case of an emergency, and I walked towards the mess. I talked with people. I talked with cops. I talked with neighbors and organizers and observers. And by talked with I mean, I asked questions and listened. I bought that clergy collar so that I could do just that. So I could be present, but silent. My pastor friend and I couldn’t get to one another, because we lived on opposite sides of the police blockade. And that’s when she spotted me. The clergy stranger, she spotted me and pulled me into the middle to pray. And an hour or so into it, I could see the across to the other side, I could see my pastor friend, also standing in the middle. In the middle is where we were. I stood in the middle, in that spot and I prayed, for the protesters, demanding to be seen and heard; demanding to be respected and treated as though their lives mattered just as much as mine. I prayed for the police, who were being screamed at for hours, called criminals and much worse, who stood there not knowing what might happen next. I prayed for the business owners, and neighborhood children, and mothers of lost sons, and mothers raising black sons, and mothers raising future police officers, mothers with babies being kept up by the noise of the helicopters. I prayed for pastors and teachers and elected officials, organizers, nurses, lawyers, and people who need jobs. I prayed for our community, our city and our country. I prayed for each person’s anger, each person’s rage, each person’s plea, each person’s function. I prayed for how the church might engage with all of this. I prayed for Jesus to come and be there in that space. I prayed for God’s love and justice and peace and peace and peace.
And when I left that night, when I finally walked away from the crowds, from the cops, from the middle, I kept praying. And I walked the two blocks home as fast as I could and bounded up those stairs and I kissed my kid’s foot and prayed some more.
Lord, in your mercy, for our city, for our families, for the cops, for the protesters, for the kids we’ve lost, for grieving mamas, for all youth, for all races, for our churches, for all of us, for your PEACE, hear our prayer…
This post was written with my family, friends and congregation in mind. I had no idea how much others would connect with it and share it. For those who don’t know, along side the congregation I serve, I have prayed, protested, marched, organized, and donated in support of calls for justice since the August 9th shooting of Michael Brown. The protests came to our neighborhood this week following the shooting of Vonderrit Myers. The two shootings were different, but I believe God’s charge for us to love one another is the same.
The Reverend Erin Counihan is pastor at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, MO. She worked 11 years in disaster response and social services before pursuing her call to ministry. When she’s not exploring parks with her dog or eating very expensive funnel cakes at free festivals with her niece, Erin blogs at Somewhat Reverend. Check out this post for more protest photos. You will find more of her writing in the forthcoming RevGalBlogPals book to be published in April 2015 by Skylight Paths.