by Orissa Arend

Teacher Nia Bryant pulls her students away from the larger protest crowd, reassuring them that Pastory Gregory Manning would be okay and explaining to them the importance of speaking out and standing up for justice even if they are afraid.

It was the last day of a two-week protest march with various stops along Death Alley, the strip astride the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. It used to be called Cancer Alley. But the forms of death caused by the proliferation of chemical plants over the last 40 years is not restricted to cancer. Statistics reveal a slow and steady genocide of mostly poor Black residents whose ancestors acquired a little land and a house through staggering toil and hardship. They have nowhere else to go. And some have even been tricked into thinking that their life-threatening jobs are a blessing. 

The October 15-30 March Against Genocide was a Black-led march with both rural and urban organizers – young, old, Black, White, Latino, and Native people. Justice and Beyond in New Orleans was one of the groups, along with grassroots groups in St. John and St. James Parishes, environmental activists, and church members, to participate. On Wednesday, Oct 30, a peaceful group of about 50 protesters was on the 11th floor of a building, outside the offices of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). Politicians and regulators have often been far too cozy with industry in this River corridor. That unfortunate alliance is finally being noticed and called out by local, national, and even international media. Maybe that’s why the LABI offices were deserted on this particular Wednesday.

In any case, there was Pastor Gregory Manning, who is Black, on the floor on his stomach in handcuffs, with a White cop’s knee in his back. When the group had been rudely ordered to leave, Pastor Manning, always gracious, said they would be glad to leave as soon as an elderly lady, Ms. Christine, from one of the polluted parishes finished her brief statement. Something in Pastor Manning rose up to ensure that Ms. Christine, who had summoned the courage to confront great powers, would not be dismissed and silenced. 

Ted Quant, former director of Loyola’s Twomey Center for Peace through Justice, was on the scene and said this: “When the people chanted ‘let her speak’, the police took down Reverend Manning and later charged him with ‘inciting a riot.’ The demonstrators peacefully left. There was no incitement to riot or violence of any kind except for the police takedown of Rev. Manning. He was not resisting. A cop was kneeling on him as other cops twisted his arms behind him to handcuff him.”

We Have to Speak

At Justice and Beyond on Monday, Nov. 4, I asked six-year-old Amani Allison what she saw and thought that day Pastor Manning was arrested. Amani was one of six elementary school-age children from the Jupiter  Rising Academy shepherded by their teacher Nia Bryant on the march. Nia Bryant was hoping to give her class a basic lesson in community organizing. Her father Pat Bryant credits Nia’s mother, the late Judge Clare Jupiter with instilling in Nia her qualities that make her a wonderful mother and teacher.

I put my arm around small Amani and asked her softly if she had been scared. She looked straight ahead, not at me, and nodded her head yes. We both let that sink in for a minute. And then I asked if she had seen the police take Pastor Manning down. She hadn’t because Nia had shielded her students from that awful sight. Amani said she asked her friend what happened and he said, “I can’t tell you. It would make you too sad.” Amani and the other children did see Pastor Manning being led away in handcuffs.

Nia Bryant pulled the children away from the larger group and they formed a circle. She reassured them that no harm would come to Pastor Manning. They all were concerned about him. The next thing they talked about was that it was okay to be scared. But if a purpose is good enough and strong enough – in this case saving people’s lives from death by pollution – you can go ahead and do what you need to do, even if you are afraid. Nia said, “Even when they try to silence us, even when we feel afraid, we have to speak.”

Pastor Manning was probably trying to figure out where the assault was coming from and why. He’s never been arrested and he is legally blind, though you wouldn’t know it by the way he navigates through the world. He is a visionary, a peacemaker, and a true man of God. The police never read him his rights. They handed him a paper, which he told them he couldn’t read. 

William Barnwell was right down there on the floor with the Pastor, holding on to him in an effort to go through whatever Pastor had to endure. But a Black policewoman pulled him off. The next day, William’s only regret was that he hadn’t held on tighter and gone to jail where Pastor Manning was strip searched, put in an orange prison suit, and held until late that night. William, by the way, is an 81-year-old White Episcopal priest. Pat Bryant, Sylvia McKenzie, Gregory Guy, Janice Dickerson, and Ben Gordon kept vigil outside of the jail.

Also arrested was WWOZ’s Kone, aka Rootsmaster, a sweet, gentle, knowledgeable historian.

Twenty people showed up for the two men’s arraignment on Nov. 5 along with attorney Bill Quigley to try to get the charges of resisting arrest, illegal entry, and inciting to riot dropped. Inciting to riot is a felony charge. Pastor Manning says, “If that’s what I was doing, I guess I do that every Sunday.” The District Attorney did not produce the paperwork with the charges, so the arraignment was postponed until Dec. 17. 

Ted Quant, had another observation: “The Baton Rouge police over-reacted and are trying to make an example of Rev. Manning, charging with a felony, inciting a riot. It is ridiculous!”

Pastor Manning’s church is Broadmoor Community Church, 2021 S. Dupre St. It has a banner outside that says “No Perfect People Allowed.” We were there on Sunday to show our support. Someone announced during the service that an explosion happened that morning at the Dow Chemical plant up in Iberville Parish. No one was hurt. Maybe that was God’s punctuation on our work.

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