Philly pastors marching in Missouri hit with tear gas

Posted: August 21, 2014

THE REV. MARK Kelly Tyler, pastor of Philadelphia's historic Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, arrived Monday in Ferguson, Mo., and by that evening he felt the sting of tear gas burning his eyes and throat.

Tyler is part of a contingent of Philadelphia clergy who traveled to Ferguson this week to support the people protesting the killing by police of Michael Brown, 18.

"There are people who are mixing in with the crowd whose intention is to start a riot and want to see a full-scale riot," Tyler said yesterday. "We made an agreement with the young people that we would walk with them, with our clergy collars on, to support their protest."

Late Monday, Tyler and a group of clergy went to Ferguson after a prayer vigil in nearby St. Louis, but never got to march.

"We were by the gas station, the QuikTrip, that had been burned down, next to a barricade of police officers, when one officer announced, 'Disperse immediately. People are throwing objects.'

"We were just standing there when, out of the blue, two started shooting off rapid-fire guns that shot canisters in both directions.

"These were immediately followed by shock grenades. They make a noise like a bomb went off."

As Tyler and other clergy walked away, initially they weren't affected by the tear gas.

But when they tried to return to the area, Tyler said, "our eyes starting burning, our throats were burning. Finally we jogged out of there. It was too much."

Tyler said he had gone to Ferguson as part of Philadelphia POWER, a group of congregations that bring people of all races, faiths and income levels together to work for justice for the city and region.

POWER stands for Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild. The group also has protested school budget cuts and low wages for airport workers.

POWER's executive director, the Rev. Dwayne Royster, pastor of Living Water United Church of Christ in Oxford Circle, arrived in Ferguson on Sunday. "We immediately went down to West Florissant to the protest," Royster said.

"I had a flash grenade land 10 feet away from me. . . . It shakes your whole body, and everything inside of you is shaken.

"I also saw my colleague, our music minister , beaten by the police and thrown to the ground." He said he posted a picture of Smith's torn shirt on his Facebook page.

Tyler said clergy organizations are calling for 1,000 clergy members to march in Clayton, Mo., tonight outside the county prosecutor's office.

Royster said the protests won't stop until a grand jury indicts police officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, and until another prosecutor is appointed.

The Rev. Leslie Callahan, pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church in North Philadelphia, arrived in Missouri yesterday.

"I was watching the events unfold in Ferguson and I was deeply concerned, first about the death of Michael Brown and increasingly concerned about the militarized confrontation model of law enforcement that has been taking place with mostly peaceful demonstrators," she said.

"I feel called as a leader of our faith community to represent both peace and justice and a sense of doing what's right and supporting what's right on every side."


On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN

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