And so a pile of bricks has become a landslide.
Less than a month after the arrest of local pastor and civil rights leader A.E. Sullivan on charges of reckless endangerment, public nuisance and failure to prevent a catastrophe, the head of the Pennsylvania NAACP has arrived in Harrisburg, with one message for Mayor Eric Papenfuse’s young administration.
“If you’re messing with Bishop Sullivan, you’re messing with the NAACP,” said Jerry Mondesire, state NAACP president. “We’re going to mess with you back. … It will be legal, it will be peaceable, but it will be unending.”
Speaking from the pulpit Sunday night at a near-full St. Paul Baptist Church, the Rev. Earl Harris also had strong words about the recent arrest of Sullivan in Harrisburg.
“This is injustice, this is bullying. … This is overkill, over-reach and it must be stopped,” Harris said. “We must extend the hand of love, but we must stop this evil … We are not going to be pushed any farther.”
Harris alleged the police staged the arrest of Sullivan after a portion of the roof on his church collapsed Feb. 21, causing bricks to fall into the street and onto two nearby homes, forcing their evacuation.
Harris further alleged Mayor Eric Papenfuse staged Sullivan’s arrest in part because the Interdenominational Ministers Conference (of which Sullivan is the president) refused to support him during his campaign for mayor.
“He wanted the IMC beaten down,” Harris said. “He’s a bully!”
According to Harris, the police arrived at Sullivan’s home that evening, asking him if he would go with them to talk about the situation. Instead, they drove him to the scene of the roof collapse, where they arrested him in front of the media. Two officers also removed his hat and posed him for the news cameras, Harris said.
“It was a setup! Done by this mayor!” Harris proclaimed. “If you voted for him, you should spread the word about what this mayor has done. This is a call to action because this is bullying.”
Harrisburg City officials said Sullivan’s church has a history of building code violations and that Sullivan had been warned prior to the collapse. At the time of the collapse, City Fire Chief Brian Enterline said it was a warning to other property owners across the city that code enforcement will be taken very seriously moving forward.
Mayor Papenfuse’s spokeswoman, Joyce Davis, could not be reached for comment late Sunday night.
Harris spoke in his home church during a leadership summit of local and state civil rights and labor leaders, who included Mondesire, AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale, the president of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Black Clergy Rev. Robert Shine and Pennsylvania State Education Association Vice President W. Gerald Oleksiak.
The summit was being filmed by the Pennsylvania Cable Network for broadcast.
While Sullvan’s arrest was – until Harris’ closing remarks – a major undercurrent to the event, much of it was spent in part celebrating the long history of support between civil rights organizations and organized labor, which is currently battling to stop “paycheck protection bills” in the state House and Senate.
Speaking during the summit, Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin County, said the bills were “like throwing a piece of dynamite at the union infrastructure and blowing it up.”
The bills would ban the state from deducting union dues and political action committee contributions from public employees’ paychecks. Gov. Tom Corbett has said he’ll sign the legislation of it reaches his desk.
“Our opponents want to divide us, strip away our rights,” said Oleksiak. “We will not let that happen.”
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