From The Washington Post:
First Congregational Church of Oakland shares a neighborhood with many homeless people who often come to the church in times of mental health crises. Sometimes church members feel unequipped to deal with the erratic behavior: The most heart-wrenching scenes, volunteer leader Nichola Torbett says, are the times when the church is closing for the day, and a person with nowhere else to go absolutely refuses to leave the building.
At least once or twice a month, at their wits’ end, the church members call 911.
Now, the church has joined a small handful of like-minded congregations with a radical goal: to stop calling the police. Not for mental health crises, not for graffiti on their buildings, not even for acts of violence. These churches believe the American police system, criticized for its impact especially on people of color, is such a problem that they should wash their hands of it entirely.
“Can this actually be reformed, when it was actually created for the unjust distribution of resources or to police black and brown bodies?” Torbett asked. For her and for her fellow church members, the answer is no — the police don’t just need reform. The police need to be abandoned altogether.
The churches call their drastic approach “divesting” from policing. They say that one headline after another about policing around the country shows that it’s necessary — most recently, events include a notorious call to police about two African American men at a Philadelphia Starbucks and the fatal shooting of Stephon Clark, shot eight times as he was holding an iPhone, not a gun.
The project of divesting is organized by Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), a nationwide organization that tries to get white Americans working on behalf of racial justice. The four Unitarian and Protestant churches that have joined so far include three in the Bay Area and one in Iowa City. The Northern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ has signed on to recruit from among its member churches, and the Bay Area churches are talking to more congregations in their area, from denominations including the Disciples of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (USA).
“It’s a challenging ask,” acknowledged the Rev. Anne Dunlap, a United Church of Christ minister who leads SURJ’s outreach to faith communities. “It’s a big ask to invite us, as white folks, to think differently about what safety means.”
I have a hard time imagining something like this taking off in New York City. Even in our relatively benign corner of Queens, my parish has to call the cops three or four times a month to contend with people who are mentally ill, homeless or a perceived danger to other worshippers.