I received a phone call from an officer asking for a donation to a police fund to help youth. I said we need police, but we also need police reform. Furthermore, police unions need to be reformed. And no, we would not financially support this fund raiser. He abruptly hung up.
Police are under fire. Evidence grows of increased White Supremicist elements in police units. The rate of police killings of people of color is significantly higher than that of whites. Thousands, including many police officers, invade the Capitol and threaten death by hanging and gun. 50 state capitols are put on watch by the FBI anticipating armed insurrection. What does a Christian do to address this truth?
The ELCA recognizes the need for police. The ELCA also demands truthfulness and expects accountability. The truth is policeing needs reform, NOT defunding. A way forward is CAMPAIGN ZERO. CZ is “An Agenda to End Police Violence”. (www.campaignzero.org) Over 1,000 people are killed by police violence each year. CZ says we can do better in lessening deadly police violence. There are ten suggestions:
1. END BROKEN WINDOWS POLICING. De-prioritize low-level offenses and establish alternative responses to mental health crises.
2. END FOR-PROFIT POLICING: Police should not be allowed to profit from aggressively ticketing, issuing fines and confiscation of property.
3. LIMIT USE OF FORCE: Ban chokeholds and teach de-escalation techniques. Create a police misconduct database and prohibit officers who are fired or resign under investigation for serious misconduct from being rehired.
4. DEMILITARIZATION: Prohibut cities and counties from using federal funds to purchase military equipment. Prohibit warrentless surveillance.
5. BODY CAMERAS/FILM THE POLICE: The public will be better equipped to hold police accountable, as well as police appropriately guided and disciplined.
6. INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATING: Only 1% of police killings result in an officer being charged with a crime. There needs to be independent investigations of all shootings.
7. TRAINING: the average police recruit spends 58 hours learning how to shoot and only eight hours learning how to de-escalate. Police training needs to be re-structured to teach limiting the use of force.
8. COMMUNITY REPRESENTATION: Police needs to reflect the diversity of America’s communities. Develop civilian first responders from the affected communities.
9. COMMUNITY OVERSIGHT: People from the community ought to be significantly involved in police oversight. Accountability will be more likely.
10. FAIR POLICE UNION CONTRACTS: Police contracts make it harder to investigate and hold officers accountable for misconduct. Cities with police union contracts have higher rates of police misconduct complaints and more killings of unarmed people.
Guns and policing are a union of necessity but not inevitability. CZ posits safer policing practices where life is respected. We live but once. We are created in the Image of God to love each other, to be a beloved community. Police and community are bound. CZ nurtures this bond for the sake of reverence for life.
Blessings and Peace!
Ron Letnes (Rev. Dr.)