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Roe's comments distorted demonstrators' purpose

Ed Wolff, Community Voices • Jun 23, 2018 at 8:30 AM

Yesterday (June 18), Rep. Roe spoke at the East Tennessee Republican Club. Part of his remarks referred to the demonstration that occurred at the front of the Johnson City Municipal and Safety Building. This is what was quoted in the Johnson City Press:

“Roe told Republicans their hospitality was much different from the reception he received from protesters who showed up at his re-election campaign’s official kickoff at the Municipal and Safety Building just an hour before. Members of that group, who were there to protest President Trump’s immigration policies, included Dr. Marty Olsen, a Democrat running for the 1st Congressional District seat in November.

“The left is fired up,” Roe told the GOP club. “The police chief had to walk me out. That’s the nonsense we’re having to put up with.”

These comments were a total distortion of what occurred.

First of all, the lack of hospitality began with Rep. Roe. We demonstrators were respectfully assembling at the front entrance to the building. Roe did not even acknowledge our presence when he arrived, although we are as much his constituents as those who were present at the luncheon. Furthermore, “hospitality” was obviously not an appropriate description for Roe to use. We were not hosts. We were courteous, concerned citizens who attempted to express our concern about separating immigrant children from their parents. After Roe arrived, I asked him if he would speak to our group. He said he was getting ready for his announcement. I asked if he would speak to us afterward. He said he had to get to another event. I asked if he had a position concerning the immigration separation program. He said he would comment during his announcement. He did not comment until after his remarks when he was questioned by a person in the audience. Those comments were vague. When he left, he exited by the side door. The impression left with us is that he represents only those who agree with him.

We were not there to protest the president’s immigration policies. (Although It is one of the hottest issues in Congress and our nation. The congressman didn’t even mention it in either of his comments on Monday.) We were there to specifically address our concern for children being removed from their parents. We believe this issue to be not only political, but a highly moral one that reflects on the character of our nation.

Dr. Marty Olsen was not included in the demonstration. He did not even talk about it, nor did he express an opinion. He came there as a person concerned, for he provided cold water to the group because it was hot. He was there less than half an hour.

Dr. Roe stated, “The police chief had to walk me out.” Such a statement was used, in my estimation, to indicate our group was rowdy and a possible threat. Such would be the furthest from the truth. I talked to Chief Turner the day after the article was published. He indicated that there is always a police escort whenever there is a dignitary in that building. It is standard operating procedure.

“That’s the nonsense we’re having to put up with.” That was Rep. Roe’s final quoted comment. My question is: When is freedom of speech nonsense? It seems to me that if Roe really believed in his motto, “People, not Politics,” he would have recognized the greatness of this country that allows free speech and acknowledged our constitutional right to be there. Stating that “I want to bury them” is purely political. Moreover, it continues to encourage the polarization of this nation. If Roe is truly for “people,” he would acknowledge differences.

Dr. Roe, I believe you owe us an apology.

Now let me explain how, why, and the circumstances in which the demonstration took place. Earlier last week, Attorney General Sessions defended the separation of children from parents by quoting scripture, Romans 13 to be exact. That’s the specific scripture the Nazis used. Because of that perception, 86 percent of German Lutherans supported Hitler because of that scriptural passage. Because I am a Lutheran pastor, that scared me deeply. On Sunday morning I saw Roe’s notice for officially announcing his candidacy. I felt that this was a moment we could not ignore. I used social media, created an event page, and stated there would be a demonstration in front of the Johnson City Municipal and Safety Building. I also mentioned that anyone desiring to have a sign would have to make one. The information spread quickly. In less than 24 hours, 50 people were gathered. What a demonstration of our citizens’ concern and utilization of free speech.

On Monday morning, I called the police chief’s office. I was able to inform them of the demonstration, that we wanted it to be extremely peaceful, and if there is anything we needed to do, please let us know. I reiterated our peaceful desires to Chief Turner after we arrived. There was never an atmosphere that hinted at potential trouble.

Dr. Roe, we realize your remarks at the East Tennessee Republican Club were specifically for your supporters, and you wanted to get them fired up. I believe there is a more diplomatic and humanitarian way to do that.

The Rev. Edward Wolff of Jonesborough is a retired Lutheran minister and progressive activist.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed by all Community Voices columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the Johnson City Press.

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