On Friday, December 5, 2014 nightly marches began in Berkeley, CA in response to the decision to not indict NYPD officer, Daniel Pantaleo, for the fatal choking of Eric Garner on July 17. This decision came 19 days after the decision of the grand jury to not indict police officer, Darren Wilson, for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. The nation is in an uproar, and rightly so. The sleeping giant has been awakened and s/he will not be returning to his/her slumber any time soon. I have spent the past 20 years teaching at the American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley, CA where my office window looks out into the infamous People’s Park.
For 20 years I have heard the tales of the great marches that came to be known as the free speech movement; and for 20 years I have wondered where that spirit of resistance had gone, until now.
On Saturday, December 6, 2014 I received a text message from one of my faculty colleagues while I was working quietly in my office. Dr. Jennifer Davidson had just arrived in the seminary parking lot, and seeing my car texted me to inquire if I would be joining the community that was gathering in Sproul Plaza on Cal’s campus at 5pm to march in protest of the legal decisions mentioned above. Up till that moment I had not been aware that a group would be gathering at Cal. I immediately responded with a ‘yes, meet you there.’ I left everything as it was in my office and walked the few blocks to Sproul Plaza. I marched alongside Dr. Davidson and Dr. Sharon Fennema, a faculty member from Pacific School of Religion, for about an hour and a half, at which time I was forced to bail due to a foot injury that had not yet fully healed. As I left the crowd that had gathered I asked Dr. Davidson to keep me informed via twitter so I could live vicariously through her younger and more able feet.
That night we both became hooked on marching—she in person for hours on end for the next 3 nights; me vicariously through her twitter feed.
On Monday night, December 8, 2014 Dr. Davidson was arrested along with 214 others in Emeryville. Those marching that night numbered over 1000. There had been no reports of physical destruction or bodily harm, but the group had shut down highway 80 for 2 hours as well as the local Amtrak. As the crowd marches they chant many things, but the main idea is always clear—“no more racist police!” The majority of the 1000 cry out for peace and non-violence, and Dr. Davidson is certainly one of these voices. On Monday evening 215 non-violent protestors were arrested and taken to Santa Rita jail to spend the night. They were put into cells that were overcrowded, had no potable water, no heat, no blankets, and iron beds with no mattresses. They were charged with Obstruction of a Public Space and Public Nuisance, both infractions.
Their arrest was intended to discourage future marches.
I am reminded of the words that Archbishop Oscar Romero spoke in one of his final radio broadcasts “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the hearts of the Salvadoran people;” and that is exactly what happened. There is a tipping point and the death of Romero tipped the scales just enough to unleash a force that could not be contained. I believe we reached the tipping point in our nation on Wednesday, December 3rd , when the grand jury decided not to indict NYPD officer Pantaleo. With that decision the scales were finally tipped unleashing a holy rage that will not be quelled. Dr. Davidson is hooked. She is home tonight, as I write this blog, resting, but will be marching again by the weekend. I am hooked, I cannot stop following the twitter feed, I want to know the most recent updates. I am resting my foot so I too can march. How this will end we cannot yet say, but the marches will continue until a significant shift has been made in our social order.
We can no longer tolerate contemporary forms of lynching. Why did it take so long? I do not know. But thanks be to God the tipping point has finally been reached.
Thank you Dr. Davidson for putting feet to your strong sense of justice; thank you for representing those of us who could not march. Thank you to everyone that has participated in the recent non-violent demonstrations. Let’s keep marching and tweeting until change comes!
LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD, Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament at American Baptist Seminary of the West at The Graduate Theological Union Berkeley, CA. Follow her on Twitter: @lasnow52; #ABSWbible; #LABCworship