By Mike Espy
On Monday, a group of peaceful protesters were gassed so the president could stage a photo op in front of the historic St. John’s Church — where every president, from Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama, has worshipped. He didn’t pray. He didn’t read any scripture. But he struck a pose holding the Bible in the air — a pose that will live in political infamy.
The First Amendment protects the right to peacefully assemble, as those activists were doing on Monday evening. Through his actions, the president undermined a core value of our democracy. I vehemently oppose clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op, especially a photo op that makes a mockery of a place of worship and the uses the Bible as a prop.
It’s just WRONG.
Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was in Washington, D.C. during the confrontation, has been silent on the president’s actions. Yesterday she released a tepid statement condemning the violence now going on in our nation.
We all condemn the violence, Senator. I condemn the use of violence and anyone who would hijack this legitimate moment — this moment where millions scream out for justice — to commit wanton and violent acts. It has no place in a democratic society that cherishes freedom of speech and the freedom to assemble.
But if we are to condemn the violence used by those that are taking advantage of peaceful protests, then we must also condemn the use of violence on peaceful protesters. If “we’re all in this together,” as you, Senator, espouse, then join me, and join your colleagues, like Republican Senators Sasse and Lankford, who have condemned President Trump’s shallow actions.
Take this moment, Senator, to lead — to show your constituents that you understand — and to show them that you empathize with their angst. Take this moment to show them that the past comments you have made about public hangings, voter suppression, and your support of old symbols of hate have no place in the modern struggle for equal justice.
While Trump’s photo with that Bible may live in infamy, we cannot let it define the image of these protests. As leaders, we must ensure that what people remember, what people talk about, what ends up in our history books — is the millions of peaceful protesters from not only across the nation but across the world who, in the words of Fannie Lou Hammer, are “sick and tired of being sick and tired” and demand change.
I will be joining Black Lives Matter Mississippi in Jackson on Saturday June 6 at 3:00 PM CT. Senator Hyde-Smith, will you join me this weekend as we continue in the proudest tradition of those that came before us and peacefully protest against the injustice that plagues Black Americans?