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As the trial of prominent St. Louis-based activist, author and theologian Reverend Osagyefo Sekou enters its second day, the corrupt and stagnant state of the Ferguson municipal court system is once again under a national spotlight.
A verdict is expected this afternoon, some 500 days after the Rev. Sekou, FOR’s Bayard Rustin Fellow, was snatched off South Florissant Avenue after he knelt in prayer in front of a group of peaceful protesters and clergy as a phalanx of armed police advanced towards them. The Reverend faces jail time of three months and a possible fine of up to $1,000.
WHAT: ‘Praying While Black’ trial of Rev. Osagyefo Sekou due to conclude
WHEN: 9am CST, Tuesday 9th February
WHERE: Division 43, 3rd Floor, St. Louis County Justice Center, 100 South Central Ave, Clayton, Missouri
Monday’s proceedings began with the prosecution successfully petitioning Judge Joseph Dueker to prevent any references to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division report that details so many of the unconstitutional practices of the courts, even singling out the misconduct of Ferguson Prosecutor Stephanie Karr.
“Forbidding any reference to the damning Department of Justice report merely underscores what folk here have long said - the DOJ reports make horrifying reading, inspiring many indignant articles and speeches, but have made no difference to the lived experience of people. Today we saw that they are not even worth the paper they are written on,” the Rev. Sekou said.
The only witness appearing for the prosecution was former Ferguson Police Officer Justin Cosma, who was behind a number of highly questionable arrests during the Ferguson unrest including that of reporters Ryan Reilly and Wesley Lowery, as well as the subject of a civil rights lawsuit for allegedly choking and hog-tying a 12-year-old boy. Judge Joseph Dueker refused to allow this information to be told to the jury.
“It was clear from the rhetoric in court that the entire movement is on trial. Ferguson officials have learnt nothing, and are determined to fight tooth and nail to avoid any shift in the unequal and inherently racist system that governs every aspect of civic life. This interwoven Hydra of unconstitutional practices and highly punitive systematic abuse is not unique to Ferguson. As with lethally racist policing, Ferguson is everywhere,” said the Rev. Sekou.
“Clergy have a responsibility to stand alongside the community in this struggle. Just as the people of Ferguson would not bow down in the face of tanks and tear gas, reigniting the flame of the black liberation struggle across this nation, I will not bow to a system that is designed to crush us. I pray justice will prevail,” said the Rev. Sekou.
Photo credits: Reverend Osagyefo Sekou before speaking at 2015 Peace and Planet rally courtesy of photographer Kyle Depew; Rev Sekou and interfaith clergy kneel to pray before armed police in Ferguson in September 2014.