Rev. Rich Lang, a United Methodist campus minister at the University of Washington, was pepper-sprayed by police while participating in the Occupy Movement in Seattle. Below are his words in response. Immediately below are videos of the pepper-spraying and the aftermath.
A PASTORAL LAMENT FOR MY COUNTRY
America, America, my country ‘tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty
Of thee I sing
America, oh America
America the Beautiful has fallen.
You could feel the tension and raw energy crinkling throughout the air as the marchers once again began their journey into downtown Seattle. The Occupy Movement is the prophetic voice of God calling out to the nation to “repent” and turn from its ways of corruption. Those who camp are a rag-tag, motley crew made up of mostly young adults, mostly unemployed, almost all of whom are alienated and cast out of America’s promise of liberty and justice for all. They are our canaries, the first fruits being devoured by the Beast of Empire.
I walked between the lines, I was alone, I was in full clergy dress, everyone knew who I was and what I was—with the protesters fleeing and the police line holding—with my back to the police and my hands waving the protesters to get back—alone in full alb, stole and cross—six officers turned their spray on me thoroughly soaking my alb and then one officer hit me full throttle in the face.
The police were once conceived to be a citizen force created to serve and protect the public. Today however, the police have been militarized and view the populace as enemy combatants, as threats to their well-being. The police, like our Armed Forces, are well trained, disciplined and exceptionally talented. They follow a chain of command and are increasingly apprenticed into a culture of institutional conformity. Because America has always affirmed the right of dissent, the role of the police is to keep the peace. They are trained to enter the protesting arena as unfeeling protectors of property and people. What has changed in our time is that the police are entering the arena of protest as agents of provocation. They push and shove at will, they ride their bicycles up the backs of protesters, they engage in verbal abuse. Their commanders allow this breach of discipline. Their comrades silently condone the bullying. The police become the agitators encouraging violence. It is as if they are spoiling for a fight—a fight, mind you, against the citizenry, against the youth, the unemployed, and those who are trying to return America back to its promise, and dare I say it, return America to its covenant with God, “we hold these truths to be self evident…”.
On Tuesday night, a small group of the rag-tag campers of Seattle’s Occupy Movement left their camp to protest the destruction inflicted upon the Wall Street Occupy site. Throughout the march, I, as a Pastor in full clergy alb, stole, and cross, acted as a peacekeeper placing myself between the police line and the Occupy Movement. On four occasions, I stepped between verbal battles between the police and the protesters. The point being that it was evident to all who I was and what my role was in this non-violent march of the few escorted by the many.
The incident was minor in nature. A girl, dressed in Anarchist black waving the Anarchist black flag was plastered side by side with an officer on the bike. They were jawboning each other. At one point her flag was thrust in his direction—a provocation, yes—threatening?—no. The officer grabbed the flag and in the pulling, pulled down the girl. Her friends reacted, jumping in to pull her away from the officer. It was at this point that the first wave of pepper spray went off.
The spraying had been a baptism…
Point—one might think the officer acted within reason, that the officer was suddenly threatened. But with what? By whom? The friends of the offender were grabbing for the girl, they were not grabbing at the police. Basically the officer, and his comrades, were trigger happy as if they could not wait for just this moment. And so the spray went forth.
I leapt to the front and tried to place myself between the parties—with spray in the air, the protesters were also fleeing. Separation between the police line and the protesters was clearly visible… there was certainly no threat of the “mob” suddenly rampaging into the well-armed police. The separation had occurred (as can be clearly seen on the video captured by King 5 News). But the spray continued. I walked between the lines, I was alone, I was in full clergy dress, everyone knew who I was and what I was—with the protesters fleeing and the police line holding—with my back to the police and my hands waving the protesters to get back—alone in full alb, stole and cross—six officers turned their spray on me thoroughly soaking my alb and then one officer hit me full throttle in the face.
I praise the courage and compassion, the discipline and the decency of the Occupy Movement. Out of the rag-tag mob came help, grabbing my hands, leading me (I was blind by then) to the wall and administering care and concern for my well-being. The protesters were assembled around all the wounded, and maintained the discipline of nonviolence (granted the nonviolence was in behavior but not language). And they were not afraid. The spraying had been a baptism sealing them into the security of knowing that their prophecy of repentance was indeed the Spirit-Word through them—it is as, if they did not prophecy, their very bones would melt within them. Against the wall in increasing pain and burning, I realized I was in the midst of church.
The police, on the other hand, were afraid. Their quick use of chemical warfare reveals how cowardly they are. The unwillingness of their commanders to maintain discipline reveals how incompetent they are becoming—the only tool in their bag is brutality and like a drunken raging father beating wife and kids, the police have increasingly disgraced themselves. Step by step, they are being shaped into the front face of fascism, the emerging police state that protects the property interests of the Marie Antionette’s who have seized control of our government, commerce, media, military and increasingly the Church itself.
My question to my clergy colleagues is this:
Where are you?
My question to my clergy colleagues is this: Where are you? How much longer can you preach without practice? How dare you remain protected in your sanctuary while your people (the rag-tag mob of the least, last and lost whom Jesus loved) are slaughtered doing that which God has commissioned you to do (prophecy!). Where are you? Who have you become in this age of baptism by pepper spray? Do you not know how much power you have to stop our national descent into chaos? Do you not realize that the world is your parish and right before your eyes the Spirit of God is doing a new thing? Can you not hear that God’s judgment is upon the land? God is against the thieves that bankrupted our nation. God is against the armies of the Beast who pillage other lands in our name, and turn and destroy our people on our own soil. Are you blind?—Perhaps you need a baptism of pepper spray in your eyes to restore your vision.
And to the police I say this—there are always the brutal ones in our midst. As colleagues, you have the moral responsibility to police your own. If your commanders order you to brutalize your people, you have a Higher Command that says, “disarm yourself, turn away from your sin, renounce the orders of unrighteousness.” And in doing so, cross the line, come over, and join us because we are the winning side of history. And we welcome your repentance and heal you of your shame.
And to the church, beloved church I say, you cannot sing the hymns of faith if you are too afraid to live that faith. In Amos, it says to silence your sacred assemblies and let JUSTICE burst forth. Our nation, with the nations of the world, are under an assault of tyranny and treason of the 1% against creation itself. You may not worship God until and unless you care for the image of God living in those tents and prophesying on your behalf. Once the Powers sweep the Tents away, if you dare to lift your voice even a peep, you too will be swept away. But the destiny of the church, the Body of Christ, is not one of quiet passivity and fear, our destiny is to bear witness having no fear of the Cross because even now we have crossed over into resurrection.