Some Oakland churches have vowed to stop calling the police for assistance, even in the face of violence and are being trained in de-escalating mental health crises and self-defense, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
The First Congregational Church of Oakland has joined smaller congregations in a move to stop calling police, suggesting that police treatment of African-Americans has reached such a point that abandoning law enforcement is their best option, the Post wrote.
The so-called “divesting” from the police is being organized by Showing Up for Racial Justice, a nationwide organization that tries to get white Americans working on behalf of racial justice, according to the Post.
Three Bay-area Unitarian and Protestant churches that have joined the project along with one in Iowa City, California, the newspaper said. The Northern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ has signed on to recruit from among its member churches while the Bay Area churches approaching others from denominations including the Disciples of Christ and the Presbyterian Church, the Post wrote.
They pointed to the police shooting of Stephon Clark and the arrest of two black Philadelphia men at Starbucks as examples of their concern. Last month, Clark, an unarmed African-American male was shot and killed by police after he was chased into his grandparents backyard holding a cellphone authorities said they believed was a gun, according to The Sacramento Bee.
On April 12, Philadelphia police arrested Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, both black, as they waited for a business associate at a Philadelphia Starbucks after the café’s management contacted authorities, CNN reported. The incident brought claims of racial profiling and Starbucks announced afterward that it would close its stores for one day in May for anti-racial bias training.
“It’s a challenging ask,” said Rev. Anne Dunlap, a United Church of Christ minister who leads Show Up for Racial Justice outreach to the faith communities, according to the Post. “It’s a big ask to invite us, as white folks, to think differently about what safety means. Who do we rely on? What is safe? For whom?
“Should our safety be predicated on violence for other communities? And if not, what do we do if we’re confronted with a situation, because we are, as congregations? . . . How do we handle it if there’s a burglary? How do we handle it if there’s a situation of violence or abuse in the congregation?” Dunlap continued.
Dunlap told the Post that even in criminal behavior cases, she would ideally like to see churches not call police because of her lack of confidence in the criminal justice system to deliver a fair outcome.
“In the case of interpersonal violence, for the survivors as well as the perpetrators, we want to look at transformative justice,” Dunlap told the Post. “Would a punitive police and legal system actually bring us the desired outcome for everyone involved? What are our actual values? What do our traditions teach us about redemption?”
Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told the Post that while the church can step in for the police in some instances, it would be a mistake to replace law enforcement when violence occurs.
“I understand where these folks may be coming from,” Wexler told the Post. “They’re saying we have issues. But if you have issues, you shouldn’t cut yourself off from such an important institution in the community. Communities only have one police force. If they’re not doing what you want them to do, you should be engaged with them.”
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