There is much to say about the Soulforce Equality Ride visit to Patrick Henry College, and it will all be said in time. One thing, however, merits some immediate and thoughtful questioning.
It was impossible for anyone to miss the massive show of police force that was assembled on campus, apparently to “defend” it from perhaps 40 people standing quietly in a line, occasionally breaking into song or the reading of a Bible verse. Two individuals engaged in a fully anticipated, symbolic act of civil disobedience, ostensibly to deliver invitations that everyone knew would never reach their intended audience.
This almost comically outsized police presence (Soulforce hasn’t seen anything like this elsewhere) is generating quite a bit of outrage from the community: Who authorized this? Who’s paying for it? According to the Leesburg Today, Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Kraig Troxell is going to provide an estimate of what this cost.
When asked about it at the scene, Sheriff Steve Simpson became a bit defensive, claiming that he had “heard things” about groups other than Soulforce coming to Purcellville; there have been insinuations elsewhere that “other groups” were being “bused in,” and that law enforcement couldn’t be sure of what might happen.
Soulforce has visited many campuses. There is a readily accessible, transparent record of what those visits look like. Soulforce is deeply committed to non-violence, a commitment that is readily apparent in all of their communications and actions.
Here is my question, and on behalf of the taxpayers of Loudoun County, I would really like an answer. Clearly, Equality Loudoun was in close contact with the Soulforce Equality Ride as they planned their visit here. If there was any hint of a planned disruption of the Equality Ride vigil by some outside groups, doesn’t the Sheriff’s Department think that we would have heard about it? And if it turned out that we hadn’t, don’t they think that our community should have been told about it?
My understanding is that our Sheriff’s Department practices “community policing.” If they were hearing rumors about other groups planning to disrupt the Soulforce visit in some way, why would they fail to pick up the phone and call Equality Loudoun to see if we knew anything?
If they had any reason to fear for the safety of anyone participating in this event, why would they fail to call the one civic organization in the county that represents the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community? It simply defies reason.
The failure to utilize Equality Loudoun as a community resource in this context is extremely troubling. The massive police presence for a non-violent prayer vigil was indeed an unneccesary waste of resources, and this is what most people care about. But what should be even more disturbing is the failure to effectively engage community organizations and accurately assess this policing situation. If they don’t talk to us, who else might they be neglecting to talk to?