NORRISTOWN — Members of the clergy and a grassroots group of demonstrators for racial justice marched to the Montgomery County Courthouse to call for the resignation of county Commissioner Joseph C. Gale while about a block away, pro-life activists showed their support for the embattled official.

“Joe Gale has used his voice and used his position to press his knee even further on the necks of our people. We stand as a coalition of people of faith, from all different faiths here in Montgomery County, and allies who have come from other places, to say today we demand that Joe Gale is immediately removed from office,” the Rev. Cean James, associate conference minister for Pennsylvania Southeast Conference United Church of Christ, addressed a crowd of more than 100 demonstrators on Thursday. “It troubles my spirit that that has not already happened.”

The crowd broke out into chants of “Joe Must Go” and “Black Lives Matter” throughout the rally at which speakers denounced comments Gale made about the Black Lives Matter movement and protests in Philadelphia in the wake of the death of a handcuffed African-American man, George Floyd, while in the custody of Minneapolis Police.

“We will not rest until Joe Gale is out of office and we will use every means at our disposal to make sure that at the end of this situation, he understands that the days of verbally attacking our people, the days of verbally attacking those who fight for justice, the days of verbally attacking those who are just standing up for what is right, are over,” James said.

Members of the clergy marched from Siloam Baptist Church in Norristown to the courthouse and were soon joined by a grassroots group of demonstrators who marched across the bridge from Bridgeport to Norristown chanting “Black Lives Matter” and carrying signs that read “If You’re Not Angry You’re Not Paying Attention” and “No one is Born Racist. It is Taught.”

Mark Jones, of Bridgeport, representing Black People Revolutionizing Montco and United Men of Color, led the marchers along Main Street into Norristown.

“We are people from the community. It’s time for a change and we want to have our voices heard. It’s time for Joe Gale to understand that he doesn’t represent the people,” Jones said.

Pastor Byron L. Craig, of Macedonia Baptist Church, also addressed the crowd.

“We are created in God’s image. Our voice is to be heard. Our lives are to be valued. Our children are to be regarded with respect and so therefore, any politician, any preacher, any institution, any president, anyone that devalues and comes against those principles that God has given us must go,” said Craig, who is also president of the Greater Norristown Area Ministerium, one of the organizers of the event.

“Black lives do matter…and we know that black lives have value and have worth and Joe does not get the message, so therefore, Joe must go!” Craig bellowed, eliciting chants of “Joe Must Go” from the crowd.

While one group sought Gale’s ouster, another group, about a dozen members of the Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania, gathered to show support for Gale and prayed.

“We’re here to point out that we share opposition to police brutality. But we’re here to call attention to Black Lives Matter, the organization’s hypocrisy of saying that black lives matter when they support killing black lives in the womb,” Mike McMonagle, coalition president, said.

“We applaud Commissioner Gale for his insight and his courage for speaking the truth about this Black Lives Matter hypocrisy. We’re here to show support for Joe. We need more commissioners like Joe Gale, not fewer,” added McMonagle, who also spoke at a meeting of the commissioners’ board on Thursday.

Members of the coalition, some carrying signs that read “BLM Supports Killing Children In The Womb” and “BLM Supports Planned Parenthood’s Deadly Racism,” prayed at the foot of the courthouse steps.

The separate rallies were peaceful and the two opposing groups of citizens did not interact.

In a June 1 statement entitled “Riots & Looting In Philadelphia,” written under county letterhead, Gale, the lone Republican on the three-member commissioners’ board, compared the Black Lives Matter group to “far-left radical enemy combatants.”

“In fact, nearly every major city across the nation was ravaged by looting, violence and arson. The perpetrators of this urban domestic terror are radical left-wing hate groups like Black Lives Matter,” Gale wrote.

“This organization, in particular, screams racism not to expose bigotry and injustice, but to justify the lawless destruction of our cities and surrounding communities. Their objective is to unleash chaos and mayhem without consequence by falsely claiming they, in fact, are the victims,” Gale continued.

Gale has not backed off from his position and in subsequent statements accused the Black Lives Matter movement of not acknowledging what he says is a racial disparity in abortion.

“If the Black Lives Matter movement was really concerned about black lives mattering, those protesting me would instead be at Planned Parenthood protesting the slaughter of black children in the womb,” Gale has said, claiming more than 200 black babies are “murdered in abortion mills across America” every day and that more than 60 million preborn babies of all races have been aborted since 1973.

“What is truly institutional and systemic racism is the disproportionate number of innocent, unborn black lives snuffed out by the atrocity of abortion,” Gale said.

Gale’s fellow county commissioners, Valerie Arkoosh and Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr., the Democratic majority on the board, denounced Gale’s remarks and stressed that Gale’s statement did not reflect the sentiments or opinions of the majority of the commissioners or of county government.

Arkoosh and Lawrence censured Gale for his comments during a recent commissioners’ meeting.

McMonagle maintained Gale’s criticism of Black Lives Matters is accurate because of their support for Planned Parenthood.

But James said Gale’s statements pressed “even further on our necks by suggesting that speaking up for black lives somehow makes you a terrorist organization.”

Carmina Taylor of PA Women Rise, urged demonstrators to contact their legislators to support legislative action to establish an investigative committee to have Gale removed.

“We need to work together, take democracy back and show we’re not playing around,” Taylor addressed the crowd. “All of us are making history today. We have to work together.”

Clergy participating in the rally included: POWER Interfaith; Fellowship of Women Clergy; Norristown Ministerium; Pottstown Ministerium; Lower Merion Ministerium; Northwest Philly Interfaith; Pennsylvania Southeastern Conference, United Church of Christ; Pennsylvania Eastern Keystone Baptist Association; Suburban Baptist Association; United Methodist Ministerium; and Wissahickon Interfaith Community Association.

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