A handful of churches on the west coast have made a pact to stop calling the police, in hopes of preventing ordinary disputes from escalating into violence. Church leaders say that members have also been encouraged to join them in refusing to call the police, although they know that not everyone will follow.
The churches are even going so far as to avoid calling the police when violent crimes occur because they are seeking to challenge the institutions of police and prisons altogether.
Volunteer leader Nichola Torbett of The First Congregational Church of Oakland is one of many people involved with this effort who believe that the current policing structure is beyond reform.
“Can this actually be reformed, when it was actually created for the unjust distribution of resources or to police black and brown bodies?” Torbett told the Washington Post.
Torbett must have been thinking of how some of the earliest police organizations in the country were slave-catching patrols, or perhaps of the history that police have of defending corruption corporations to the point where they are killing innocent people.
These views are shared by many others who have signed onto this pledge, including Rev. Anne Dunlap of The Northern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ, who has also called for the full abolition of police.
“You’re talking about state violence against communities. You have to speak up and take a stand about that. There’s not a nice way to just play in the middle. There’s not a way to reform our way out of police violence but to dismantle policing as a system,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap said that communities could take care of themselves by relying on one another in times of need, instead of depending on an authority who has a license to kill.
“In the case of interpersonal violence, for the survivors as well as the perpetrators, we want to look at transformative justice. 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?” Dunlap explained.
Sarah Pritchard, co-pastor of the Agape Fellowship in Oakland, even said she is proud to call herself an “abolitionist.”
Many of these pastors have referred to their strategy as a “divestment” in policing since this is really the only way to refuse their service considering the fact that they have a monopoly and are funded through taxes that are taken by force.
Police advocate Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum told the Post that these organizations should be working with the police instead of against them. Wexler also said that the “police need the church,” but if this is the case, maybe that is all the more reason for the churches to withdraw their support.
“I understand where these folks may be coming from. 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. It’s disappointing to hear when a community or religious organization decides they’re not going to engage with the police anymore. Police need the church. They need an active clergy. They rely on them,” Wexler said.
What Wexler does not understand is that many of these churches have attempted to engage with police in the past, and they have been involved with many of the actions against police violence, but they have come to a point where they have realized that there is no hope of reforming this institution and that its very existence is against everything that they stand for.
Unlike the notorious authoritarian evangelical political base in America, these churchgoers actually seem to be practicing what they preach.