Two members of a Jamaica Plain church were among those arrested during a rally that drew hundreds to the street outside the Ferguson, Mo., police station Monday as part of weekend-long demonstrations to protest the killing of Michael Brown.
The Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, the formation and justice pastor at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, and minister of music Colin Cushman were arrested, according to the Rev. Ashlee Wiest-Laird, head pastor of the church, who spoke by phone from Ferguson.
Cornel West, an author, activist, and Princeton University professor who formerly taught at Harvard University, also was among those arrested, the Associated Press reported.
As of late Monday afternoon, Wiest-Laird did not know what charges Sekou and Cushman faced, or where they were being held.
“There were others of us who were willing. I was willing,” said Wiest-Laird, who traveled to Ferguson with Cushman, Sekou, and two others from the church to participate in this weekend’s events, which included protests at other locations.
Organizers planned for the rally to last slightly more than four hours, she said, the length of time the body of 18-year-old Michael Brown lay in a Ferguson street in August after he was fatally shot by a police officer. As crowds shifted during Sunday’s march, Wiest-Laird ended up near the back, and reached the police station just as the demonstration and acts of civil disobedience were coming to an end.
During the rally, protesters used a bullhorn to read names of people nationwide who were killed by police. Clergy from various denominations stepped toward a line of police officers, offering to pray with them and “take their confessions,” The New York Times reported.
More than 50 people were taken into custody at protests in the St. Louis region, including 42 outside the Ferguson police station, authorities said, according to the AP.
Earlier Monday, just after midnight, hundreds marched through the streets of St. Louis University, a Jesuit school.
On Sunday, Wiest-Laird and Jeannette Quinn, a parishioner, went to the neighborhood where Brown was shot to see the memorial marking the place where he died.
“As a parent, my heart broke,” Wiest-Laird said. “And I stood there in the middle of that street, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it could have been any of my kids. I’ve got white, brown, black, any kind of color, and it could have been any of them. I’m a citizen and this was unacceptable.”
A mother of a multiracial family, and pastor of a diverse congregation, “my struggle is bound up with their struggle,” she said.
“I have two children of color by adoption and one little white girl by surprise,” Wiest-Laird said. While her participation last weekend was “definitely about my boys and their future, it’s not just about them. We’re all connected. I’d be just as concerned about my daughter.”
“I want to believe in my heart that police officers, at least most of them, go into that profession because they’re called to serve, they’re called to protect, they want to do something good for the communities,” Wiest-Laird added, but she is concerned about the “escalation and militarization of our police.
I said to several officers today, ‘Mr. Rogers would be ashamed: Our community helpers killing our kids.’ ”
Since Aug. 9, when Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, was shot by a white police officer, many demonstrations have been held in Ferguson, focusing attention nationally on race relations.
Last week, an off-duty white officer in nearby St. Louis fatally shot another black 18-year-old, Vonderrit Myers Jr.
Police said Myers fired at the officer, but his family and supporters say he was unarmed.
The group from First Baptist Church, which planned to return to Boston Tuesday, had been discussing the events in Ferguson since the shooting of Brown.
“This wasn’t just a whim,” Wiest-Laird said. “It’s been a subject of our sermons and meetings and discussions.”
The group in Ferguson over the weekend e-mailed home photos that were posted on the church’s Facebook page and videos that were posted and shown in church Sunday, she said.
“It’s not just about Ferguson. Ferguson is a symbol,” Wiest-Laird said.
“Part of our call to responsibility is that everybody doesn’t have to come to Ferguson. We have our own needs and we need to step forward locally for the people in Jamaica Plain and the city of Boston,” she added. “This is a symbol for a huge problem in our country, the underlying racism we still have to address in this nation.”
Heavy rain fell Monday during the rally, and when she reached the station, she looked into the eyes of a police officer standing in front of her.
“I said, ‘Hey now, I’m a Baptist, I love water, I could be here all day,’ ” Wiest-Laird recalled. “And we both laughed. Wouldn’t we all rather be sitting around laughing and enjoying each other? Sweet might not be the best word, but that was a sweet moment for me.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.