Jesus Calling: #ifidieinpolicecustody

August 3, 2015

Pete from FlickrI wonder: could phone trees, organized so that volunteers quickly call the precinct where people of color are being held, reduce the incidence of people dying in police custody in this country? Could enough calls from people identifying their locations around the country, saying, “We’re watching,” or simply asking the police to confirm that a particular person is being held there, make a difference?

In an essay on torture and eucharist, Rebecca Gordon, author of Mainstreaming Torture writes:

“Some time during the early 1990’s in San Francisco, California, I attended the speech of a Salvadoran trade unionist. I have forgotten her last name, but her given name I remember well: Gloria.

“Gloria’s purpose that evening was to inform her audience about the situation in El Salvador of union members like herself. By way of illustration, she related the story of her own capture and torture by the notorious Salvadoran Treasury Police. She told us that it was only the pressure of phone calls and letters from la solidaridad internacional — international solidarity — that had finally forced the police to set her free. As Gloria spoke, I began to shiver. I remembered that I had heard – and spoken – her name before. I realized that I myself had made some of those calls.

“In the late 1980’s my friend Sharon Martinas organized an informal phone tree among her Spanish-speaking friends, so that when news of police kidnappings reached her from El Salvador, we might telephone the appropriate police force or military service (El Salvador had several) and demand the victim’s release. Sharon would keep us updated about what was known of the victim’s whereabouts and supply us with the relevant telephone numbers. I remembered my phone calls to the Treasury Police, remembered insisting that we knew they had her, that she had been seen in the prison at Ilopango, which they controlled.

“As Gloria told her story, I was seized with a sort of retrospective terror. What if we had failed to make those calls? What if we had been too busy in the days of her capture to add our voice to those of others demanding her reappearance? What if the press of life, or my own laziness, had kept me from participation in the body of la solidaridad internacional?

“Still, there she was in front of me, alive. My heart was lifted up to encounter in the flesh a woman whose body the little community organized through Sharon’s phone tree had helped to save from torture.”

At the heart of Holy Communion is the reality that we are bound together with God and each other, regardless of jail cells and prison walls. I wonder about the possibilities. And then I remember that hymn:

In prison cell and dungeon vile
our hearts to them are winging
when friends by shame are undefiled
how can I keep from singing?

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