As Quakers, we have a long tradition of advocating for social justice. Our fundamental belief is that there is that of God in everyone. So, it stands to reason that we strive for justice and equal treatment for all. We also have a long history of marching in protests for equal rights, from women’s suffrage and prison reform to the civil rights movement in the 1960s and today.
Although we were not at the march in Prince Frederick on June 1, many of us heard first-hand accounts and saw the media video of law enforcement dispersing the marchers who were reluctant to leave. We are dismayed that what began as a peaceful protest ended with law enforcement donning riot gear and gas masks and using tear gas to disband the marchers. Why did this happen?
We have no answers ... only questions. Were the armed deputies feeling threatened by the protesters? Did the police fear for the safety of others? Are guns, intimidation and tear gas the only tools our Calvert sheriff’s office has to respond to people who become unruly? Why did the people go from peaceful to unruly, if that was indeed the case? What might we do to prevent the use of police violence from happening in the future? Is there a need for changes in policy and procedures for the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office? Is there a need for more conflict resolution and communication training, so deputies will have the necessary skills to communicate more humanely and effectively with community?
Protests are an important and necessary means for community members to be heard, and police violence is not the appropriate response to a community gathering. There is a danger in using tear gas, particularly during a worldwide respiratory pandemic. The indiscriminate nature of tear gas means it affected both those not complying with police instructions and those who had moved to the sidewalk as instructed. During the COVID-19 epidemic, what health risks were created through the use of tear gas that could have been avoided?
We live in a small community. We are neighbors. We have an opportunity to do better. We beseech our neighbors to use their voices in peaceful protest. Provoking and challenging law enforcement is not productive and leads to escalating confrontation. We beseech law enforcement to treat us as neighbors, to use restraint and use non-violent communication skills to de-escalate any interaction with community members.
If we want peace, we need to work for justice for all. It must be consciously nurtured. It emerges out of close attention to the feelings of others, out of adopting the well-being of the other as our own, and out of mindfulness of the shortcomings in our system of justice that allows unnecessary force to be used.
We Friends (Quakers) call on all seekers after justice to spend time in personal and communal reflection, time in active advocacy, and time in reaching out to those of other races in fellowship. Out of these actions we may build a community that is safe and just and works for everyone.