A Pastoral Letter to Members of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Force

October 15, 2014

ferguson1Sisters and brothers on the Ferguson police force,

Grace and peace to you. On Monday I stood outside the Ferguson police station with hundreds of other clergy, asking for justice for Michael Brown, and for a change in our police culture. I was one of the faith leaders reading a litany through a bullhorn.

As part of that demonstration, I watched my colleagues in ministry – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist – approach those of you who were holding the line. Those clergy came very close to you. They got in your personal space, I could tell by your body language. I couldn’t hear what they said to each of you. We had agreed that those who spoke with you would say, “You are part of the system that has killed Michael Brown. I call you to repentance, and I offer to hear your confession.” Maybe they actually said that to you; maybe they just followed their hearts. Many of them talked for a long time.

Some of you conversed with the clergy in front of you. A few of you smiled, and even took hands with those who were speaking with you. Others of you stared straight ahead, or looked with controlled anger at the clergy who were facing you. I could see the strain on your faces: the strain of the situation, and a weariness from this long, 67-day siege that has surrounded your department. I understand that this kind of experience takes its toll on a person. I hope that you have support – family, and counseling, and some kind of spiritual support as well. I want you to know that I noticed how you were faring, and that I prayed for each one of you that I saw, moving from face to face.

As you can probably sense, even if you wouldn’t say it this way, it’s so easy for us to lose sight of the deeper communion that we share. It’s so easy to lose sight of the humanity of the African American youth who are leading this movement. The racist narrative is so strong, with the 24-hour news cycle eager for conflict, painting them as bloodthirsty and wild rather than as brave and tenacious. The conflict itself, day after day, can cause us – can cause you – to lose sight of the flame of the holy in each of them. I’ve heard some of the things they have said to you, and some of the things you’ve said to them. I thought of them as I watched you, because I sensed how we can easily lose sight of your humanity as well, hidden away as it is behind riot gear and the stern veil of discipline that is needed for your work.

So, I want you to know that I stood on the other side of the standoff Monday and saw your humanity, saw you as men and women who are affected by what is happening.

“I want you to know that I…saw your humanity, saw you as men and women who are affected by what is happening.”

I also want you to know two things that I have been thinking since I left the police station Monday. The first is this: it is unfair to send a police officer into harm’s way without providing the kind of skills, tools, and cultural competencies that are needed to avoid the inappropriate use of lethal force. It is wrong to ask local police officers to manage dangerous situations without sufficient training in de-escalation, with few non-lethal strategies and tools, and with only limited knowledge of the culture and life situation of the people in the community. It is immoral to pour the overflow of the military industrial complex into local police departments like yours, and then expect you to somehow not see angry young people as enemy combatants. It is unconscionable for police commanders and public officials to send officers like you out from the insular culture of an almost entirely White police department, into a predominantly African American community, and expect them to succeed. It’s not fair to the community, and it’s not fair to you.

“It is unfair to send a police officer into harm’s way without providing the kind of skills, tools, and cultural competencies that are needed to avoid the inappropriate use of lethal force.”

Second, as a member of the clergy, I want you to know the same thing that Bishop Oscar Romero wanted soldiers, paramilitary, and police in El Salvador to know back in the late 1970’s: that you are first and foremost a child of God, created and beloved. In the final analysis, regardless of what is done to you, and to us, you are under no obligation to obey any human command that is contrary to God’s ongoing work for justice and peace. You are free to act according to your conscience at all times. Regardless of how powerless you may feel, no one….no one is in a better position to influence the changes that must come to your leaders and your department – and to all the departments that are watching yours so closely. Some of us in the church are repenting of our former inaction. You can do the same.

“You are under no obligation to obey any human command that is contrary to God’s ongoing work for justice and peace.”

Before I left the police station, I thanked some of you who were standing on the line for being out there. I meant it. Thank you for standing out in the rain with no umbrella. Thank you for the hours of being on your feet, with no breaks. Thank you for the long periods of boredom mixed with tension. We are not going away, but we are seeing you, and praying for you. May God bless you as you discern how you will be part of the change that is to come.

5 Responses to “A Pastoral Letter to Members of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Force”

  1. revtylerjd Says:

    Reblogged this on unrestricteddiscernment and commented:
    Excellent blog from Professor Grundy.

  2. Daryl Says:

    The clergy forced through the police line. That, in case you do not recognize it, is an act of aggression and violence. They did much more but I have no desire to go into it here. Suffice it to say I am having many conversations aimed at healing the wounds created. I believe your heart is good. The decision to be involved in this way seems foolish. But I’d guess it is a reasonable result of following those that are guiding you.

    • I believe your heart is good, too Daryl, and I’m glad that you are trying, in your own way, to move Ferguson forward. I daresay we are not done with foolishness, but I hope that we are all learning in the process. Some of us are learning how to engage in nonviolent resistance properly, some of us are learning the futility of crying “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. May you and I both be guided by prayerful discernment.

  3. kristataves Says:

    Reblogged this on And the stones shall cry and commented:
    A very insightful blog from a minister in St. Louis MO.

  4. davidac44 Says:

    Reblogged this on Theology in Action and commented:
    Incredibly deep letter to the Ferguson, MO Police. Let us not forget we are ALL human beings.

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