Sacramento is under curfew. The National Guard is in our streets. Glass still litters our sidewalks, and a friend dubbed the Sacramento downtown "Plywood City". .The whole city is in mourning, over 130 businesses shattered by violence. The original protests for justice have been overshadowed by mindless rampages not from within the protest but inimical to it.
These scenes are being played out across California and also across our nation.
We are under siege and have not seen the likes of this since the end of the Civil War.
The protests against police violence that kills and harms so many Black and Brown people are not the cause of but the excuse for the violence sweeping our land. By and large the rioters seem to be white, have their own nihilistic agendas. They pay no attention to Black community leaders trying to keep their movement peaceful, the issue focused on harm to people of color by excessive police actions.
The rioting has its own momentum, takes no heed of anyone. Too many times the community has found neo Nazi graffiti, anti -"Black Lives Matter" slurs, hate messages against many groups. It's not clear who is behind the violence at all. And yet the White House and media keep referring to the protest on racial justice as the source. It is not. It is just the extremists' excuse.
There are now threats from the White House that active military will be sent to places with unchecked rioting and looting. The president told Governors on a conference call Monday that he would use the Insurrection Act to bring control. The threat is horrifying. Yes, this happened in limited ways during the 1950s school desegregation uproar. Again it was applied during the Los Angeles riots of 1992. It has never before been threatened against an entire nation.
The laws are clear: the 1807 Insurrection Act can be triggered by civil unrest, but only with the consent of Congress who are not likely to give it. That was briefly changed in 2006 giving more unilateral power to the president, but the provision was repealed in 2008 thus restoring the original meaning of the dominant Posse Comitatus Act (1878) that limits federal power over troops on domestic soil and removed the president's unilateral authority from the Insurrection Act. No one person can order the placement of active military into our communities, our states, our lives.
Following the phone call with Governors. we witnessed active military from Fort Bragg, NC arriving in Washington, DC. The District of Columbia is the one place troops can be placed without Congressional approval since it is federal jurisdiction. At their arrival, the president directed that protesters be tear gassed and removed from the White House area despite the fact they were peacefully standing and sitting, nothing else. In the ensuing assault, clergy at nearby St. John's Episcopal Church, compiling medical kits for the protesters, were also gassed and driven off their property. The president then walked from the White House to the church to simply hold up a Bible for a photo op.
This, according to analysts who understand the symbolism, was not just an odd public relations moment. This gesture was an affirmation to ultra conservative Christians that the actions the president was taking were being done under the rubric of fundamentalist Christianity. He was signaling his belief he would be both king and prophet, bringing End Times and the Second Coming through his work. It was affirmation to his followers that he was indeed acting our their version of the Lord's business as read by them in prophecy. It was a sign he is the "Chosen". He is their man.
But that vision is not ours. It also isn't that of our members in the Episcopal Church. where he stood. Bishop Mariann Budde of the District of Columbia dioceses was infuriated. She denounced both his use of force against protesters and clergy and his use of St. John's without anyone's permission. She said it was craven and that they at St. John's were on the side of the protesters seeking justice for people of color.
And here is where we are. We are called to respond to the great schism of today. Which side are we on? We at the Council have long embraced the principles of justice, of equality and equity, of love and compassion, care for our fellow humans. We seek to Bend the Arc toward Justice not capitulation to the anger of either mobs on one hand or tyranny on the other. Which side are we on?
We have military in our streets, troops in DC and National Guard elsewhere.. We still have Black men and women, elders and children begging America to respect their worth and protect their lives while seeking justice, seeking changes in policing, seeking safety in our society. Which side are we on?
These are dark days. Choices and actions will have to be taken by us individually and by us together. Which side are we on?
We at the Council stand with those in pain, those who are hurt and left behind by our society. We stand with justice and love and community. We stand with joy and laughter and kindness. We stand with all good people of good heart whoever they may be, protester and police officer alike.
We stand for what Jesus taught us in the two commandments. Love thy God and Love Thy Neighbor. They are equal in our lives.
We will stand by that. We hope our nation will do the same.
May God shed blessings on this nation to be what our Constitution promises and upon us all to have the strength to carry that promise to fulfillment.