It took less than sixty seconds of standing on a sidewalk for Damon Atkins to be placed in handcuffs and arrested for quoting a portion of a Bible verse.
On Saturday morning dozens of people were gathered outside the Reading City Hall on Washington Street to participate in the city’s first ever “Pride March and Rally” endorsed by Mayor Eddie Moran. At approximately 10:05 a.m. Atkins arrived at a public sidewalk across the street from City Hall.
In less than a minute he found himself in handcuffs.
The entire incident was captured on film by Matthew Wear of Reading, Pennsylvania, who told The Lancaster Patriot that he had been preaching prior to Atkins’ arrival and was told to stop by the same police officer who later handcuffed Atkins.
Wear said he preached for about twelve minutes and then began filming the event from across the street.
Wear posted the video to YouTube, where it has garnered nearly 2,000 views in two days.
The video begins with Wear narrating and explaining that he preached until “a cop got in my face, laid hands on me, and threatened to arrest me if I didn’t stop.”
“They got drag queens, they got children here,” Wear said in the video. “They’re about to do a flag raising ceremony in this Satan cesspit.”
About a minute into the video, Atkins can be seen at a distance heading toward the event.
“It looks like some more men just showed up to support us,” Wear says at the 1:48 point in the video. “This cop’s going to give them a hard time.”
The video shows Police Sergeant Bradley T. McClure approaching Atkins, and the two interact for approximately 25 seconds.
Atkins can be heard saying “This is public property.”
McClure can be heard saying “let them have their event” and “respect them.”
In the video, Atkins tells McClure that he is respecting the people in attendance and said, “You know who’s cheering for us – the people that are in hell.”
Atkins later told The Lancaster Patriot that he was referring to the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in the Gospel of Luke, wherein a rich man in torment begs Father Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers about the place of torment.
Wear’s video then focuses on McClure as he walks away from Atkins. Atkins can then be heard saying, “God is not the,” and McClure immediately reapproaches Atkins and handcuffs him.
Atkins told The Lancaster Patriot that he was going to quote a portion of 1 Corinthians 14:33 – “God is not the author of confusion” – but did not finish the quote because he stopped when he was handcuffed by McClure.
According to an affidavit of probable cause, McClure claims that “[Atkins] was carrying a sign with a slogan written on it that showed his opposition to the event.”
The video footage shows Atkins holding a sign that read “JESUS SAID GO AND SIN NO MORE.”
In the affidavit, McClure also claims that Atkins “began to yell to the people” attending the pride event.
“I immediately approached him and told him that, while he was free to stand on that side of the street and hold his sign,” McClure wrote in the affidavit, “he could not cross the street nor yell comments intended to disrupt the event.”
McClure added that Atkins “said he understood.” But the video does not show Atkins agreeing to remain silent and Atkins told The Lancaster Patriot that he never agreed to McClure’s instructions.
The affidavit continues with McClure claiming that in less than a minute Atkins “resumed yelling derogatory comments to the people at the event.”
The video records the only words from Atkins as “God is not the” immediately prior to McClure arresting him.
A court document provided to The Lancaster Patriot shows that Atkins was charged with “Disorderly Conduct Engage in Fighting.”
A criminal complaint from the Reading Police Department provided to The Lancaster Patriot explains that a violation of the Disorderly Conduct statute entails “the intent to cause substantial public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior” and that Atkins “despite being warned by police just moments prior, yelled derogatory comments at an organization that was holding a permitted event.”
As Atkins is being handcuffed in the video, the crowd at the pride event can be heard cheering his arrest.
Atkins agreed to meet with The Lancaster Patriot to explain that the reason he went to the event that day was because Jesus Christ changed him, and he wanted to tell others.
“The main reason I was there was because of love,” he said. “Because Jesus has taught me to love my neighbor as myself.”
He attended another pride event earlier in the week and said a man told him that “if I had a gun, I would shoot you in the head.”
Atkins said the message of repentance is viewed as hateful simply because it does not encourage the sinful behavior that is being celebrated by the culture.
“What is love? Is that love that your pastor tells you that you can be a homosexual and enter the kingdom of God?” he said. “That’s not love.”
Atkins told The Lancaster Patriot that he was cited as making “derogatory” comments but was simply quoting from the Bible.
“Now in this country, ‘God’ is a derogatory term,” Atkins told The Lancaster Patriot. “That makes me sick to my stomach.”
Atkins’ court date is scheduled for June 16, and he said he is hoping Alliance Defending Freedom will represent him.
Atkins said he is discouraged by the pride celebrations in Reading and the actions of the police officer but will continue to warn people about the dangers of sin.
“It’s all going to be sorted out in the end,” Atkins said.
[Editor’s Note: On June 7, the Berks County District Attorney’s Office announced that all charges against Atkins have been dropped.]