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PC(USA) Office of Public Witness decries treatment of protesters

Statement issued against criminalization of protests and militarization of police

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins directs the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — The PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness has issued a statement decrying the use of heavy-handed tactics to control protesters and criticizing the passage of laws limiting the right to protest.

The statement by OPW’s director, the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, and Langley Hoyt, a fellow for domestic issues, speaks against the use of police violence to silence protesters.

“In the weeks following the death of George Floyd, as protestors continue to fill the streets with largely peaceful demonstrations, police continue to retaliate with shows of force and militarization,” the statement says. “The violence police use against Black Lives Matter protestors stems from a long history of police attacking marginalized groups advocating for their rights.”

The statement likens 2020 strong-arming of protesters to examples dating back to 1917 when suffragettes were targeted and continuing through the Civil Rights Movement when hoses and dogs were set on protesters in the 1960s.

“This is the modern-day iteration of a historical pattern of police violence against peaceful protest,” the statement says. “To protect the civil rights of the American people, the police must be reoriented to adopt more appropriate measures in response to demonstrations which pose no threat of violence.”

The statement advocates cutting funding “to police budgets that provide inadequate training and military-grade weaponry,” and it suggests using the saved dollars to pay for effective community programs and resources that communities need.

The statement notes that lawmakers in various states have passed numerous laws “criminalizing and restricting the right to protest.”

“These laws further protect violent police forces while allowing the prosecution of Americans for practicing their First Amendment rights,” the statement says. “This is a move in the wrong direction as local police departments must be de-militarized.”

Christians are urged to recognize that they serve a man of color, Jesus, who was arrested and killed by Roman keepers of the law. The statement also highlights a portion of Matthew 26, in which Jesus de-escalated a violent encounter while he was being arrested.

It says in part, “Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’”

To read OPW’s full statement, go here.

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