‘They turned holy ground into a battleground’: clergy teargassed by Washington police


JUNE 2, 2020

Photograph: José Luis Magaña/AFP/Getty Images

Washington D.C. – Episcopal clergy linked to St. John’s church in Washington, D.C., were among the peaceful protesters violently swept out of the way by police so that Donald Trump could pose in front of the building on Monday evening, and they have condemned the US president’s behavior.

The Christian leaders were teargassed along with protesters and journalists, some of whom were also shot with rubber bullets and punched by officers as they cleared a path to the church from the nearby White House.

“They turned holy ground into a battleground,” the Rev. Gini Gerbasi said.

Gerbasi is the rector of nearby Saint John’s Episcopal Church in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, a sister church of St. John’s Lafayette that is better known as the Church of the Presidents because every one since James Madison has attended services there.

As Trump spoke at the White House, where he threatened to unleash the US military on protesters if state governors don’t crush unrest triggered by the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, riot police attacked the crowd outside the church.

“I was suddenly coughing from the teargas,” Gerbasi told the Religious News Service website.

Gerbasi had brought 20 other priests and a group of laypeople, organized by the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, to serve as a “peaceful presence in support of protesters.” They offered water and snacks to demonstrators denouncing racism and police brutality, and were armed with hand sanitizer to ward off coronavirus amid the heightened risk of such gatherings during the pandemic.

The clergy were packing up before the new 7 p.m. curfew in Washington began, when the police suddenly surged forward to clear the crowded space in front of the church.

“We heard those explosions and people would drop to the ground because you weren’t sure what it was,” Gerbasi said, adding there were cries of pain as people were hit by rounds fired by the police

Another local leader, the Rev. Glenna Huber, rector of the Church of the Epiphany, fled and emailed clergy at the Church of the Presidents to warn them.

Gerbasi said she was on church grounds as police approached.

“I’m there in my little pink sweater, in my collar, my gray hair up in a ponytail, my reading glasses on, and my seminarian who was with me – she got teargas in her eyes,” she said.

She continued: “The police in their riot gear with their black shields and the whole bit start pushing on to the patio of St. John’s Lafayette Square.”

Gerbasi and her companions fled, then saw on their phones images of the president and cohort striding across the space they had just been ousted from, to stand before the church as cameras rolled.

“That’s what it was for, to clear that patio so that man could stand in front of that building with a Bible,” said Gerbasi.

The White House tweeted a video showing Trump’s walk and pose and giving the thumbs up as he strode past a line of riot police, set to triumphal music.

The Right Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop of Washington, based at St. John’s Lafayette, which is known for its liberal bent, said she was also outraged. She told ABC: “This is an excruciating moment and a crisis moment in our country, where we need healing and reconciliation and we need justice.”

The Right Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, accused Trump of using “a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes”.

Courtesy/Source: The Guardian