The March Continues
May 29, 2018
The third of six Monday Marches for the Poor People’s Campaign is tomorrow in Nashville. This week’s emphasis is on the Militarism and Gun Violence. As the afternoon demonstration tomorrow afternoon in advance of President Trump’s rally, we anticipate strong resistance to our demonstration tomorrow from 2-3PM .
As I was having trouble with my gimpy leg and the solution not as yet found, I missed the second demonstration held last Monday. 21 demonstrators were arrested. An African American from Memphis Martin Hurley displaying not different behavior than the others in the group was also cited for resisting arrest. This, according to our seasoned organizers, is not unusual. Cavalier and arbitrary actions on the part of police authorities come with the territory, especially if you are of color.
I have been impressed with that leadership so far. It has been somewhat startling for me—several leaders are transgender and represent what I would call less than traditional faith communities. Though not for a moment do I doubt how genuine and devoted they are to the cause and to their faith communities. While the African American contingents were smaller than would be in Memphis, they were nonetheless vigorously present and inspiring.
Rising bright and early the morning of 29th, I drove without any trouble to Nashville arriving an hour early at designated assembly point—UAW hall on Centennial Blvd. We were to assembly for training at Christ Episcopal Church downtown.
Local news from Nashville was bristling with accounts of President Trump’s pending rally later in the day—desperate efforts to shore up gubernatorial and senatorial campaigns of darling Republican women Black and Blackburn. Advance information from the march organizers entailed strong warnings that local police would likely be very harsh on us. If arrested we should expect to remain in jail over night. To those of us with little or no experience with arrest it all was a big mystery anyway. We did feel confident in the way the march organizers had planned for all contingencies and to do everything humanly possible to assure our safety. Leading march activities of today would be Susan Hudson McBride, chaplain in Davidson County Jails, graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School (friended by Doug Meeks there). Beth planned to participate in Civil Disobedience with specific symbolic task that removed her from march leadership.
As the march contingent arrived we moved quickly by van transport to Christ Church which is only half mile from capitol assembly area. Accounts of last week’s arrests moved pretty quickly through the group—basically attesting to differential treatment white marches received as opposed to those of color. Martin Hurley was charged with resisting arrest when his shackles came undone inadvertently. An African American woman protester was shackled hands behind her back while all others arrested(all white) were shackled hands in front and each courteously treated by arresting officers.
Training got underway and it was obvious there were new people whom I didn’t recognize from the march two weeks ago.
Among leaders was regional organizer of Poor People’s March for Southeast. She is pastor of Church Without Walls(non-denominational) in Maryland. We also had new song leader as Mary Dicken was not able to be there. Nor were my Duke buddies Chris Heintz and Anthony Calzia. Megan Hollenbeck our faithful photographer was back again. New seminarian I met this time was Hunter, second year student at Vanderbilt Divinity, native of Memphis and candidate for ministry in Disciples of Christ.
Design for today’s march was quite different from previous demonstration. As the focus for this week was on Militarism and Gun Violence, our actions were to be of different sort—quiet and somber. Plans were for us to march to assembly area in Legislative Plaza as if in a funeral march. A casket covered in American flag and those agreeing to civil disobedience had chains shackled to their hands in front and carried black umbrellas. We were to march to the Plaza on sidewalk, cautions of blocking streets forbidden in advance of President’s arrival. The assembly was to last about an hour then the party would proceed to closest street and if possible chains would lock a government building if possible ( this to be done by Beth). The casket and all pall bearers and civil disobedient persons were to lay down in the street.
The assembly in Legislative Plaza was attended by less than 70 people in the crowd. We had about 35 on steps. A series of speakers proceeded. Some more convincing than others but all dealing with the themes of militarism and gun violence. Several veterans of recent wars spoke quite convincingly. A veteran teacher from Memphis presented a rousing statement about loving students as our cherished treasure and protecting them from gun violence. Perhaps the most poignant presentation was given by Catholic nun from outside Oak Ridge TN who had been imprisoned numerous times over the decade protesting nuclear arms and mass incarceration. She was understated but winsomely powerful testimony to the power of the cause.
At the conclusion of the assembly around 3PM the group moved silently to the street just in front of the capitol building. The plan to lock the doors to the government building immediately in front was forestalled by a phalanx of uniformed police. One estimate is that there were at least 70 uniformed police in the vicinity. The casket was set down mid-street and all marchers lay down in the streets as police began immediately to warn us to vacate the streets or be arrested. Within minutes the some 23 of us were surrounded by uniformed Metro police who came to each person asking if they wanted to be assisted up to leave the area. When we quietly said we preferred to remain, they as quietly said “You will be arrested.”.
Within five minutes an officer by the name of Powell bent over and asked me to stand up so I could be arrested and cuffed. He was very courteous and seemed not at all ready to hassle the grand-fatherly figure in front of him. Within minutes nearly a dozen of us were cuffed and escorted by policeman on either side. The women appeared escorted by female officers. No one was manhandled. And they carefully disconnected our shackles in the front to put their on to the back. Initially did not seem too bad. But that got worse as time wore on. The arrest occurred around 3:30PM. Gradually they processed each of us, separated us from all personal belonging and eventually put us in paddy wagons. These vehicles are simple two compart, air conditioned and bench seating. Probably around 4PM after all 23 were arrested (including a professional journalist who just happened to be there). We were transported to a public park near the football stadium where we were to be booked via the remote booking unit of Metro Police.
In my wagon were eight of us: George Grider, my friend from Memphis, Hunter,Vanderbilt student, George Grider, Martin Hurley, and myself. We were probably the only native Memphians in the bunch. Also on our side was the very colorful Greek art teacher from Knoxville. On the other side were the journalist, Martin, and two others whose names I can’t recall.
My citation reads: Obstructing a passageway, Charlotte Ave. Nashville TN.
TCA Code 39-17-307 NCIC Code 5322 type M class C
The event citation reads as follows:
Officers responded to a large crowd that had gathered on Charlotte Av. In front of the state capital. Offers had prior notice of the group and that some were willing to be arrested. Officers watched as a large contingent of persons began to lay down in the street while others stood blocking traffic. It was observed that many in the group had chains attached by zip ties to their wrists to prevent them being immediately flex-cuffed behind their backs. Several announcement were made over a 5-10 minute period of time that if individuals remained in the street, that they would be arrested. The announcement by PA was heard by officers on the other side of the crowd. The crowd was advised that individuals remaining in the crowd would be placed under arrest for obstructing a passageway. The action of both the group and the individuals made the road impassable in all directions to motorists on the roadway. It took approximately 20-30 minutes to clear the roadway of all individuals present. No outstanding warrants. No FTA.N
Arresting Officer S. Ruben Mariano
Court Date June 22, 2018 between 9 and 11AM. Davidson County Sheriff’s Office
First floor Birch Building 408 W 2nd Ave. North Nashville TN.37201
By 5:15 or thereabouts the booking was complete and we rallied at a nearby Exxon Station where we eventually secured rides back to the union hall.
All those arrested met back at the union hall for a de-briefing. Several expressed suspicion of what appeared to be feigned courteousness on the part of the arresting officers. Some gave testimony to having seen undercover police who had accompanied prior marches and the apparent fact that the police had a clear understanding of our plans for this day’s march. It was also pointed out that the separation of arrested demonstrators and taking them to undisclosed location for booking was a violation of established procedures for arrests. Furthermore, it appeared a mark of recent moves by government to separate demonstrators in secret from their parent group and legal counsel.
For my part I took these articulations of suspicion with a grain of salt. I received the kindness of arresting officers at face value. But then again, I am a white aging male and no doubt posed no threat whatever.
There was general satisfaction with the group on how things turned out and the steadfastness of the Nashville wing of the PPM. A sizeable number of those present indicated they would return next week. I am confident that Lora Chatfield and Martin Hurley will return next week. George Grider, I don’t know. For myself this will be my last march I surmise.
This morning as I opened the routine email message from the United Methodist Church, powerful message from Dr. Susan Crow for our board of Church and Society. It highlighted the first two weeks of the campaign and argued persuasively for supporting the PPM as a strong expression of our church’s position of social justice. And it urged all Methodists to join the march.
I lament that there were so very few of my United Methodist colleagues, lay and clergy, in Nashville to march these first there weeks.
Brothers and Sisters, three weeks remain.
Fred Morton, Elder Retired Memphis Annual Conference UMC.