In the last few years, and even days, police-involved shootings in places like Charlotte, Baton Rouge, Baltimore, and Ferguson have devastated our country. Yet, despite all the press conferences, funerals, protests and hashtags, we are still left with unanswered questions. People across the country are deeply concern about the police-related killings as well the violence targeted towards police. Most of all, many worry about the future of our country; a nation that seems more divided than ever before.
In Ferguson, MO, a commission was tasked with conducting “a wide-ranging, in-depth study of the underlying issues brought to light by the events in Ferguson.” The Ferguson Commission released “Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity” in the fall of 2015. The question that need to be answered was this: are all citizens of Missouri, regardless of race or economic standing, treated fairly by the justice system? After countless interviews, community-wide meetings, and data collection, the Commission found that the answer is no.
In Missouri in 2014, black drivers were 75 percent more likely than white drivers to be stopped in traffic stops. A Department of Justice report on Ferguson found that between 2012 and 2014, “African Americans account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67% of Ferguson’s population.”
These statistics are troubling and make clear the need for policy changes to ensure the equal treatment of all Americans under the law. As Christians, it is easy to feel as if certain justice related issues are outside our realm of influence or far too complex to try to step into. But it is in circumstances such as these where confusion and frustration so often dominate conversations that we must remember the nature of the God we serve who asks us to “do justice” and “love mercy”. With this in mind, how can we work to rebuild trust and restore relationships between community members and law enforcement?
The government has an important role to play in beginning this work. One of the tasks of government is to promote public justice, and, according to the Center for Public Justice’s Guideline on Government, to uphold “the common good of the political community” including working to protect citizens from “domestic and foreign injustice.” In Ferguson and in countless other communities across the country, it is clear that not all citizens have been adequately protected from domestic injustice.
We must call upon our lawmakers and police departments to make policy changes and to specifically address racial discrimination. We can and should petition our leaders for more thorough officer training. The Ferguson Commission report urges that, “Police departments across the state shall revise their anti-bias training protocols by applying new learning
approaches to understand bias and its influence on community service” and “Police departments across the state shall revise their training policies to emphasize experience-based self-awareness through continually different personal interactions with community representatives, leaders, and youth.”
For communities with widespread tension between citizens and police departments, training to correct inappropriate uses of force may also be necessary. No citizen should feel vulnerable in the town or city they call home because of their race; instead, all individuals should feel protected, not threatened, by law enforcement.
At the same time, as citizens committed to restoration and bridge building, it must also be a priority to respect and value the police officers in our communities. Just as no person should feel unsafe or targeted because of the color of their skin, police officers should not feel targeted because of the badges they wear. Police departments are central to the justice system’s functioning and do great service to our towns and cities. It’s important to demonstrate our thankfulness and gratitude for the work of men and women within our local police departments.
While government has a role to play, the hearts of communities and families scarred from years of anger and hurt are in need of a deeper kind of healing; something found not in changed policies but in changed hearts. It will be a long and hard journey, but we must work towards healing and restoration.
In the wake of the police shooting in Dallas, local pastors engaged in a “pulpit swap” between 100 churches to demonstrate the importance of building interracial relationships between their churches. According to an article in Christianity Today, Golden Gate Missionary Baptist Church, an African American church in the area invited a white, Presbyterian pastor to preach from their pulpit. The churches gathered together on a weekend early in July to pray for “healing, racial reconciliation, safety for law enforcement, and unity.” In reflection on this gathering, Obie Bussey, a leader at Golden Gate Missionary Baptist Church, explained his view that it is the role of the church to stand in the middle of these conflicts to affirm concerns of both African Americans and police officers. Churches, instead of passively sitting back and watching these issues from afar, must be active in using their congregations as models for how best to forgive and love one another.
Although repairing the decades of hurt and anger in this country may seem like an overwhelming task, there are practical ways to begin the process of healing. Christians across the country must always remember the need to, in the words of author Lisa Sharon Harper, become a people who “grow in compassion” instead of participating in the hateful, angry rhetoric that so often surrounds these discussions. We must become a people marked by our love for all our neighbors remembering that injustice has never been, and never will be, outside the scope of God’s redemptive power. That is why, even in times of doubt or confusion, we must continue to pursue justice for the sake of not just our own communities, but the entire nation.
-Gabriella Siefert is a sophomore at Wheaton College studying Political Science and Spanish. This year she has been involved in a myriad of on campus activities including Student Government, the Wheaton College Mock Trial team and International Justice Mission. When she is not talking, thinking and writing about political issues and their intersection with her faith, Gabriella enjoys traveling, reading and cooking elaborate meals for her family.