PULLING TRIGGERS: ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE AROUND POLICING
By the Rev. Erika Rembert Smith, CFP Anti-Racism Committee, Chair
Conversations about policing are tense these days. In the aftermath of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, we again find ourselves talking about the role of policing in America. Often, these conversations are more polarizing than they are productive. Those who call for reform in the policies in policing have called for a defunding of these departments. The defunding of dollars is nothing new in our nation. Taxpayer dollars for public education, senior programs and child insurance protection and other programs are defunded and reallocated as governing bodies deem necessary.
Those in favor of reform that leads to safer and more stable communities are calling for the reallocation of funding in favor of making room for mental health professionals and other resources that would benefit both the community and the police. Even though some have co-opted the term to make it mean something unintended, it is important not to get lost in the minutia and lose the intended meaning in the matter of ensuring that residents in all communities have what they need to experience shalom.
Indeed, talk about policing is triggering to many people. These conversations trigger fear in people from all walks of life. Some are afraid that removing the police from their community will cause them and their loved ones to be less than safe as they live their lives. Others are afraid that the continuation of policing in its present form may leave them and those they love less than safe, even dead, at the end of any given day. The fears of the latter are rooted in the history of policing in America.
In the South, the police force, then called the slave patrol, was established in the early 1700’s to chase runaway slaves and to prevent slave revolts. These forces used violent measures to capture and shackle fellow human beings created in the image of God, who sought freedom from bondage and relief from the suffering they endured. During the Civil War, the military served as the primary form of law enforcement. The return to local law enforcement ensued during Reconstruction; with this return, a system similar to that of the slave patrol was used to enforce segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves. In the Jim Crow era, dogs and fire hoses were used to silence those who worked to receive the benefits that were rightfully theirs as fellow citizens of a country that prides itself as being “the home of the free and land of the brave.”
When we take time to peruse the pages of history, it appears that the police force was not created to serve and protect all Americans. In its historical context, law enforcement was created to serve white Americans and to control Black, Indigenous and People of Color. For sure, discussions around policing are triggering for all citizens in this country. These conversations are incomplete without an understanding of history. May we be brave enough to explore this particular history, that we may find the courage to change the tenor of our conversations.
“History is important because it teaches us about past. And by learning about the past, you come to understand the present, so that you may make educated decisions about the future.” - Richelle Mead
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived; but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” – Maya Angelou