A Weekly Roundup of Politics: Protests in Memphis and Hong Kong, and the Catholic Church

Frayser Tennessee Protests

The city of Frayser, just north of Memphis, was rocked by protests on Wednesday night in response to the police-related death of 20-year-old Brandon Webber. State marshalls arrived at his family’s home to arrest him for undisclosed felonies and fatally shot him several times in the front yard after they claim he brandished a weapon and rammed a car into a police vehicle.

Protests began to swell after the community learned of the shooting. With police-related fatalities killing roughly 3 people in America each day and disproportionately affecting black, brown, and native communities, the outrage is not unwarranted. The protest damaged multiple police vehicles, a fire hall, and injured several armed police officers as bricks and rocks were thrown while they protected themselves with riot gear. It was not immediately reported how many civilians were also hurt during the protest, but tear gas was used to disperse the crowd and two journalists were taken to the hospital with related injuries.

Shelby County Commissioner and current Memphis mayoral candidate Tami Sawyer made this statement on Twitter in response to the protest:

“Don’t judge Frayser without asking a community how it feels to mourn their youth over and over again. What do people do with their pain and trauma when it gets to be too much when a city has ignored them, when their loss is too great, and they can no longer yell at the sky?”

While Tennessee has seen its share of police-related deaths this year with 15 fatalities, the national average is down 18% compared to this time last year. This is a substantial drop not seen in the previous 6 years (when public tallying of these deaths began being recorded). Each year since the documentation began, the numbers remained roughly the same with the final totals hovering around 1,000 deaths. Protests like these are important for bringing national awareness to an issue and thus demanding more accountability from police officers.

US Bishops Vote to Police Themselves

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was held in Baltimore this week, and unsurprisingly they voted to police themselves when it comes to reports of abuse levied against bishops. While they voted in support of using a 3rd party system to collect the claims, ultimately the bishop within the jurisdiction of where the abuse took place will be in charge of what happens to the complaint. He will be deemed with the responsibility of reporting it to law enforcement, the Vatican, and a layperson or layperson committee. If the abuse is levied against him, he will still be in charge of the report.

The original declaration set forth last November required an organization of laypeople to tackle the issue, but it was rejected by the Vatican. Many consider the priesthood to be a brotherhood as well and involving outsiders just didn’t seem to fit within their centuries-old insular organizational structure.

This brotherhood of support is what many deem to be the reason so much abuse has been allowed to continue through the years. However, while many within the organization of US bishops see this new declaration as a step forward, those who are demanding justice and accountability from those leading the Catholic church are dismayed and angry.  

Protests in Hong Kong

On Wednesday, tens of thousands of protestors in Hong Kong surrounded the legislative building in protest of a bill that would allow the region’s police force to detain and extradite people to countries and areas with whom Hong Kong has no formal agreements. Many fear that this would mean political dissidents of China would be extradited back to the mainland.

Meanwhile, the legislative body claims that the extradition would exempt political activists and focus on murders and rapists. But it’s undeniable that the Hong Kong public is not convinced. Organizers estimated last Sunday’s protest to include one million people, although the police estimated it to be closer to 250,000. If the protestors are correct, it will have been the most massive demonstration since Britain relinquished control of the region to China in 1997.

Last month over 3,000 lawyers, law students, and prosecutors rallied in a silent protest to object the bill, and over 6,000 housewives have signed a petition demanding the policy not be put into effect. Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam likened protestors to “spoiled children” and claimed the bill would be voted upon regardless of the demonstrations. Their recent actions on Wednesday delayed the vote which many deem as a success even if there were injuries and arrests.

The ramifications of passing the bill would likely hurt Hong Kong’s economy as many people would not be willing to travel or work due to the fear of extradition to China.

The legislators claim they want to pass the bill so the city is not a “safe haven for criminals” — but many see this as just a ruse. The massive social networking app Telegram went down during the protests, with many blaming mainland China for the hack, but it appears very obvious that China is interested in getting the bill passed.

More protests are slated for this weekend, and the vote is likely to happen next week. Let’s see what the people of Hong Kong will do to maintain their democracy. Americans, it seems, could use a lesson in that area.  

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.  

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