According to an article from The Sentencing Project, First Congregational Church of Oakland, a progressive California church, and dozens of its members have vowed to never call the police again except for a shooting or other life-threatening violence, reports the Los Angeles Times and National Public Radio.
After the church began displaying a Black Lives Matter sign in response to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Vanessa Riles, an African American congregant, asked members: “How can we say black lives matter, and be a church that calls the police on people, especially black people, poor disenfranchised black men?”
The church, half of whose congregants are white, recognized that the rare instances in which it called the police were in regard to homeless black men. Rather than relying on police, church leaders secured a $10,000 grant to train its members and other community groups on de-escalation tactics and self-defense. For burglaries, the church will file a report at the police station to satisfy property insurance requirements, rather than have the police come to its neighborhood.
While some churches have scoffed at this strategy and conservative media has called it “anti-police,” another church in Oakland and one in San Jose and Iowa City, Iowa have made similar vows and local houses of worship and residents have expressed interest in participating.
My opinion? A wonderful idea. First Congregational Church is taking a step the right direction. Nowadays, people are too quick to call police about the most mundane things.
Recently, there are numerous high-profile cases where people of color have been racially profiled, confronted by police, and, in some cases, arrested after white business owners, employees, or bystanders viewed them with suspicion.
For example, Lolade Siyonbola, who is a graduate student at Yale, was woken up by the classmate and interrogated by law enforcement for 15 minutes. According to Siyonbola, the white student told police that she appeared out of place in the building.
In April, two black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were arrested for trespassing as they waited inside a Philadelphia Starbucks for a business partner. The men later said they had been inside the Starbucks for mere minutes before the store’s manager called 911 because they sat down without ordering anything.
Not long after this, a black woman was violently arrested inside a Saraland, Alabama, Waffle House and had the front of her shirt pulled down by police officers after a manager called 911 because of a dispute over an extra charge on the woman’s bill.
That same month, the owner of a golf club in Pennsylvania called police on a group of black women who he said were playing too slowly. On April 30, two Native American teenagers were pulled aside by police during a tour of Colorado State University after a white parent on the tour called them.
And on May 8, the president of Nordstrom Rack issued an apology after employees at a Missouri location called the police on three black men who were shopping for prom, accusing them of shoplifting. A white customer in the store called the men “a bunch of bums” as they looked through items.
Again, kudos to First Congregational Church of Oakland.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member were contacted by police under questionable circumstances. A competent defense attorney can review the facts, interpret the law and humanize a situation much better than fearful witnesses and/or hyper-proactive police officer can.