14/08: Covenant IV – Fostering Accountable Community-Centered Policing
Often it is said that most of our Black men are behind bars. What seems to verify this claim is that I don’t think I know a Black man who has not had some kind of run in with the police at some point in his life, especially if he was “Driving While Black” (See Rod Garvin’s story). If this is the norm, then are all Black people criminals deserving to be profiled? Are we naturally prone towards prisons? If no, then the question of the hour is why are the prisons predominately filled with Blacks? How do we account for this?
What makes matters worse is that some do not know, care or have forgotten about the significance of “the mass incarceration of black people in America [being] a real and present danger. About one in every 265 whites is incarcerated in local, state, or federal prison. By contrast, of the 36 million African Americans in this nation, almost one million of them are in prison; that is about one in every 36 black people who is behind bars somewhere in America. African Americans represent 44 percent of all incarcerated people in state and federal prison cells, yet account for only 13 percent of American population. Something is clearly wrong when the government’s most effective affirmative action program is the preference people of color receive when entering not college, but the criminal justice system.”
Even if you do not think there is a problem with our criminal justice system, we still must grapple with solutions that prevent the overwhelming augmentation of Black incarcerations. The Covenant with Black America suggests, “Racial bias in our criminal justice system has many causes – historical, political, and economic – but we know that any solution to the growing crisis of mass black incarceration must begin with focusing on how our communities, especially our youth are policed. Police are the entry point, the gatekeepers, of the criminal justice system. They make discretionary decisions everyday about who is likely to commit a crime and who should be targeted by the criminal justice system; about who should be stopped, questioned, searched, and arrested. These decisions are made on the basis of individual police officers’ life experiences – their training, their instincts, their prejudice and bias. And all too often, they are decisions informed by race.”
The Covenant with Black America Perspective
For The Covenant with Black America, the key to overcoming this crisis is having more accountable community-centered policing. In this model, the local police will be held accountable by the community it serves because current police oversight has not done much for the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. For instance, in the context of a nation that had a “War on Drugs,” racial profiling was more of a problem for Blacks because police looked for drugs primarily among them, which caused a disproportionate number of Blacks to be arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated. “This leads to more African American in jails and prisons, a fact that only serves to reinforce the false perception that blacks are primarily responsible for the drug and overall crime problem in this country. [However] studies across the country began to show that African Americans were two or three times more likely to be pulled over and searched, yet no more likely to be engaged in any criminal activity than white Americans.” Therefore, within such a context of poor execution of drug and “tough on crime” policies, overly policed schools, and hyper and hostile police presence in Black communities, having the police held accountable to the community seems like a good and viable option.
Nevertheless, in the face of such adversities, The Covenant contends that the community can still get involved even on the individual level. Here are some of the suggestions: get to know the police officers who patrol your neighborhood; ask your local city council representative to host a neighborhood meeting to discuss local policy/community relations, talk to young people about how to conduct themselves if they are stopped or confronted by police officers; encourage your local high school to invite police in to get to know the students; if there is an incident of alleged police brutality in your community, join with neighbors and community leaders in demanding an investigation and appropriate action; and hold all leaders and elected officials responsible and demand that they change current policy. Also leaders and elected officials have a role to play in these ways: recruit and hire community-conscious personnel; adequately train all officers in cultural sensitivity, racial profiling, and excessive force policies; proactively maintain diverse and effective police departments; create efficient oversight mechanisms; eliminate barriers to citizens’ filing complains against police; ensure a fair and thorough investigation of accused police officers; and collect, compile, and publish relevant statistical data on police abuse.
An Anthropological Vision
While I do believe that the model of accountable community-centered policing offered by The Covenant with Black America can remedy some of the policing problems and the relationship the police have with Black communities, it still falls short of a more true and long-lasting solution. As a result, the solution isn’t so much with needing accountable community-centered policing, but rather having community-centered communities. Of course, community-centered communities seems to be redundant, but we can have communities that are not centered on itself as a whole, which is really a community of individualism that begs the question of community altogether. I say this because in a very real sense, focusing on better policing tends to avoid dealing with a much more fundamental issue of actually being a true community. For instance, it is often said that it takes a village to raise a child. However, the “village” of the Black community is no longer what it once was. It seem as though when there was more community involvement in the raising of kids, there was less policing concerns. But one question still remains: why was there so much truth to the statement about it taking a village to raise a child? I would suggest that part of being human is to be what God has made us to be – covenantal beings. And to recognize ourselves as covenantal beings is to recognize that we are inherently community beings. In other words, it takes a village to raise a child because we are essentially village people (no pun intended). This reality is a function of our imago dei. If we are truly living out our imago dei, we cannot help but to be centered on our community while also seeking its restoration liken to our body when it needs to be renewed. You could say that our community (in a broad sense) is an extension of our humanity. To be human is to have an organic and intimate relationship with my community or surroundings. Isn’t this something we see from the beginning with Adam and his relationship to the earth? But this should not surprise us because Adam comes from the ground. If my community is hurting, then I too should hurt because essential to being human is an extricable connection between all of the ground of my community and I, the human-gardener.
An Eschatological Vision
Furthermore, a community-centered community in this case is a community that manifests God’s original intent in creation. It is a community that needs to experience the re-creation of the garden in our neighborhoods so that we may become more eager to usher in our renewed neighborhoods on the "southside" of the new heavens and new earth. Therefore, our Black communities should be a creational community - a community that creates or breathes new life into the broken and depressed lives of many Blacks. That is what creation is all about. It is about putting things into its proper order. This is exactly what the Edenic community was all about and what needs to happen in the Black community if it seeks to be a part of the garden that God is recreating on earth. Moreover, the Garden of Eden was not taken care of simply because Adam, the human-gardener, tended to it, but because God, the divine-gardener, was its creator and sustainer. He would not let the garden go down the tubes, even after Adam’s fall because He had a plan to restore this community to a more unimaginable status. This plan of redemption will not include better policing because that cannot ultimately undo the evil in our communities and world. What creation longs for, which includes Black neighborhoods is to be re-created by its Creator in order to right all wrongs. Therefore, Black communities have a reason to be hopeful and take their neighborhood seriously because the creator God is already in the process of re-making our communities to look even more glorious than Eden.
An Ecclesiastical Vision
Critical to this cosmic redemption for our neighborhoods is Christ’s church. If our communities are expected to experience lasting redemption, how can it not come from local churches? Churches ought to demonstrate by word and deed that God has a covenant with his creation that he will not break as its creator. That is to say, when things are looking like they are at there worse all around us, we can trust the creator God to keep his covenant and not abandon our creational-communities without any righting of wrong. Since our creator God is our covenant God, He will be faithful to bring about covenantal justice to solve the problems in creation like the bias policing our communities face because He will be faithful to the covenant, which is designed to deal with the evil in creation. Furthermore, God’s faithfulness to the covenant finally culminated in Jesus because God's righting of the wrong came through the death and resurrection of Israel’s Messiah that announced to the entire world He would keep his covenant, even if He had to do so on behalf of His people and world in order for them to be the beneficiaries of a new creation as the covenant envisaged. If Black communities, and men in particular had such a vision from their local churches, perhaps they would not seek to take matters into their own hands possibly ending up in prison, if they knew that God actually cares more than they do about the evil in their communities and lives that He sent His only Son to right every single wrong.
Co-Founder Xavier Pickett