Bishop JD Wiley Taylor, the pastor of Life Center Cathedral in Marrero, said Thursday that he and a coalition of ministers could have been more clear and specific when at a Dec. 2 press conference they asked the public not to protest what was then the non-arrest of Joe McKnight Jr.’s killer.
“The call not to protest probably didn’t come across exactly as we wanted it to,” Taylor said. He said members of the coalition were hearing that there was going to be “spontaneous, unorganized, possibly violent protest.” They didn’t want to see what had happened in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, Md., happen in Jefferson Parish. In those cities, Taylor said, the chaotic and sometimes violent protests became a bigger story than the precipitating homicides of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray.
But at the Dec. 2 press conference at Hosanna Fellowship in Gretna, the ministers may have given the impression that they’re generally opposed to people protesting. But Taylor said he’s fine with protest that is directed, organized and properly timed. Reflecting on the press conference almost a week later Taylor said that he may have come across better if he’d said, “Don’t protest yet” or “Don’t protest now.”
Most of the ministers involved in that press conference were black, and Taylor said that although there are some people applauded their remarks, others have labeled them house Negroes and Uncle Toms. But it was not his intent, Taylor said, to quell people’s anger. “They had a right to be angry.”
Nor was it his intent, Taylor said, to shut up people who suspected racism after the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office hesitated to arrest Ronald Gasser for killing McKnight.
So is this case about race?
“It is and it isn’t,” Taylor said. “Everything in America is racial – every since we got here.” And when the Trayvon Martins and the Tamir Rices get killed and their killers aren’t punished, “it’s a like a wound,” he said, that keeps getting picked at. “I fully understand the angst and the anger.”
Taylor said that being labeled a house Negro for the sheriff “bothered me at first,” but only until he remembered the old saying: If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.
He received constructive criticism, he said, from a person who said that adding the word “yet” to his request that people not protest would have made a big difference.
That way, Taylor said, the coalition’s statement “wouldn’t have given the impression that we were speaking for the sheriff.”
Sheriff Newell Normand did speak to the coalition before the ministers held their press conference, Taylor said. “He wanted us to know why” he was doing what he was doing, that is, why he wasn’t immediately arresting Gasser. But, Taylor said, “It was not the sheriff who asked us to call for calm.” The ministers made that call themselves, he said.
On Monday JPSO booked Gasser with manslaughter in McKnight’s death
When I phoned Taylor Thursday, I explained that I wanted to talk about his response to McKnight’s death but also understand his beliefs regarding protest.
He said that he believes that “when we make a great deal of noise” about white-on-black killings, including those involving the police “and do not simultaneously address the killings of blacks by blacks it’s an incomplete message.” As I said in my first column about McKnight’s killing, I don’t think that’s a very good argument. One, there are way more black people exercised about everyday crime than critics want to admit and, two, even if they weren’t exercised about that kind of crime, they’d still be justified in being angry at the police killing black people with seeming impunity. But there are a lot of people who make similar arguments to Taylor’s, suggesting that black people have to earn the right to be angry at injustice.
Though he says he’s not opposed to protest that’s “strategic, organized and disciplined,” Taylor also said he thinks that some of the strategies need updating. He thinks marching was more necessary in the time of Martin Luther King Jr. because there weren’t any black public officials who could carry the black community’s issues forward. “There should be now a more strategic approach to dealing with this issue.”
Marching, he said, shouldn’t be the only approach.