Ten San Diego County faith leaders, including Roman Catholic Bishop Robert McElroy, joined Thursday in calls to end police abuse against people of color.
“We are compelled by our faith to … witness to the fact that daily in our own lives and in our society, we rupture the compact we have with God through racism and structures of racism,” McElroy said. “We cannot stand silent.”
The 30-congregation San Diego Organizing Project follows other groups nationwide seeking police reforms in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis.
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Dozens of other clergy members joined a press conference in an outdoor courtyard at the diocesean pastoral center.
Among their demands:
- Pass PrOTECT, a model policy being created by the Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency that would end invasive policing practices used disproportionately against black people.
- Strengthen community oversight to ensure police are held accountable, especially via independent, community-led panels with power to conduct independent investigations and issue subpoenas.
- Adopt strong de-escalation policies.
- Immediately put into effect the HEAT process in the San Diego region, which stands for hiring, equipment, accountability and training.
“Public safety servants” need to be hired who understand and can be responsive to diverse neighborhoods, they said in a statement.
Procedures and tactics that don’t “dehumanize or terrorize the public” should be rethought, the statement said.
Other speakers in Clairemont were San Diego Episcopal Bishop Susan Brown Snook; Bishop Terrell Fletcher, City of Hope International Church; Imam Taha Hassane, Islamic Center of San Diego; Rabbi Devorah Marcus, Temple Emanu-El; the Rev. Kathleen Owens, First Unitarian Universalist; the Rev. Richard Hogue, St. Andrew’s and Holy Cross Episcopal Churches; Pastor Jason Coker, Oceanside Sanctuary; the Rev. Tommie Jennings, Christ of the King Catholic Church and Bishop Andrew Taylor, Pacifica Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Bishop McElroy said Floyd’s death echoes that of many others, particularly young African American men and women, “who have been victimized and murdered through a system of law enforcement and a justice system and a penal system which places the black community on the cross in our country.”
Jason Coker, lead pastor of Oceanside Sanctuary, took Christianity itself to task.
“Christian institutions in America are dripping with white supremacy,” he said. “Our schools and churches, our songs and sacraments, our Eurocentric theologies all bow before the idol of whiteness.”
Rabbi Marcus of Temple Emmanu-El said afterward that if faith communities don’t speak out, “our silence gives tacit permission and gives a condoning tone to this problem.”
People need to begin with self-examination and honest dialog, the rabbi said.
“These conversations are not easy to have, but I always teach my students that the easy road and the right road are rarely the same road,” she said. “It’s time to walk that hard road, have these difficult conversations and do the right thing.”
Marcus depicted Moses, who fought for his people’s lives amid God’s wrath, as the ultimate model of speaking truth to power.
“We too must surely be able to find our own courage to speak to the institutions of power that have harmed so many people in this country and that have harmed so many people who went into law enforcement in order to protect and serve, not to harm the people who they were charged with protecting and to create communities where people no longer fear the police,” she said.
The Rev. Owens of First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego said peoples’ shared morality says we must act.
“Police are supposed to enforce laws,” she said. “They are not to be the prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner against any person, especially against black people.”
The Rev. Hogue of St. Andrew’s said law enforcement agencies must be held accountable for abusing their power, especially in the black community.
“This moment calls on us to be bold in our policy making if we truly want justice for George Floyd and to show actions toward dismantling anti-black racism,” said the Episcopal priest. “We call on all local law enforcement agencies to adopt these policy reforms in their entirety.”
Bishop Snook of the Episcopal Diocese said Christian tradition says God particularly care for the oppressed.
“Love means dismantling the systemic racism that has infected our country for over 400 years,” she said. “And white people — I want to say this to us particularly: ‘The work of dismantling racism is not work for black people to do. This is white people’s work.”
Some clergy members spoke from experience.
Tommie Jennings, 71, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in southeast San Diego, recalled his mother not being able to vote because of a voter test meant to keep black people away from the polls.
He also spoke of truckloads of Ku Klux Klan members shooting out lights in his neighborhood as a child.
“There are those who would like to keep us silent, but as we continue to see what is happening in our country at this time, now more than ever, we need to speak up,” the priest said.
Bishop Fletcher of City of Hope International Church in southeast San Diego evoked the reality for black men like him, his son and three brothers: “We run like a gazelle every day, hoping that the lion doesn’t catch us, hoping that this is just a good cop that’s going to give me a ticket for speeding and not one that’s going to pull me over, try me and execute me on the sidewalk.”
Oceanside’s Coker said: “The first demand we make is of ourselves. To my fellow Christians … let us repent of white privilege gained on the backs of black bodies. Let us repent of white economics and the looting of black America for white profit.”
Coker — whose church describes itself as “deeply rooted, radically inclusive and curiously Christian” — concluded: “Let us repent of white addiction to authoritarian policies and policing that protects white property at the expense of black lives.”
Bishop Fletcher challenged fellow clergy.
“The reality of the matter, white pastor, white bishop, white reverend, the average racist don’t go to my church,” he said. “The average racist is in your congregation. The white supremacist is sitting on your deacon board, and I am challenging you as a man or woman of God to call it out and to call it what it is.”
He added: “Stand in your moral courage so that you can help your fellow human beings.”
Fletcher also called on fellow pastors not to “subdue” problems but instead expose and deal with them.
“We have to again become the first-century church that turned the world upside down because we refused to allow injustices like this to be calm and washed under the water,” the bishop said.
“I’m not advocating anything violent; I’m not advocating public disruption, but I’m advocating making decisions that will agitate the spirit and the soul of man.”
Lutheran Bishop Taylor invited people of faith and good will to join in this important work “so all might live the abundant life that God wishes for us all.”
Dinora Reyna, executive director of the San Diego Organizing Project, said that having difficult, uncomfortable conversations is necessary and that clergy in their “sacred space” are in a position to hold each other accountable because of their strong relationships with congregations.
Imam Hassane, director of the Islamic Center of San Diego said they were all together in this effort.
“Standing against injustice is standing against something wrong that is hurting our nation,” he said. “I hope that this will not be the end of the action; this is just the beginning.”