The Police are the Public and the Public are the Police

by | Mar 16, 2017

By Kathleen Moore

On April 1, the Center for the Study of Faith in Justice will host The Police are the Public; The Public are the Police – Repairing the Breach. Speakers include Wesley Lowery, a reporter for The Washington Post and author of “They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and the New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement.

“This conference is an opportunity to make a real change in policing,” says the Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart, founder of the Center for the Study of Faith in Justice at Calvary Episcopal Church and retired captain with the Metropolitan Police Department. “For me, if we’re going to be serious about the Jesus Movement, it needs to affect every aspect of our lives, to include how American policing affects people of color. I truly believe that with a few people we can start making connections with law enforcement agencies. If we start small and get commitments to meet the police face-to-face, it’s going to be the relationships that change policing.”

The day-long event will include presentations from Fisher-Stewart, author of “Community Policing Explained: A Guide for Local Governments”; the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, distinguished professor of religion at Goucher College, canon theologian at Washington National Cathedral, and author of “Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God”; Brian K. Jordan, chief of police and executive director for safety and security, Howard University and co-author of “A National Conversation on Police and Community Relations on HBCU Campuses”; the Rev. David Couper, retired police chief of Madison, Wisconsin and author of “Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds off about Protest, Racism, Corruption, and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police” and Tim McMillan, lieutenant with the Garden City, Georgia police department whose Facebook post following his experience pulling over a young black man went viral.

Fisher-Stewart, who spent twenty years working as a police officer, believes the church has a key role to play in the work of police reform. “To repair this breach, it needs a theological direction, because the races have never been one in America if we look at it from a secular perspective,” she says. “The only way we can look at it is through a theological lens where God created one human race that human beings then divided. That’s the only way we can get back to reconciliation. Because if we look at the races in America, they’ve never been one, so how can you reconcile what’s never been one in the first place?”

This racial divide created a police force in the United States that “has never really been about serving and protecting everybody,” Fisher-Stewart says. “So it’s time to fix the breach, and I think that the church is in a better position to do it, because that is what the church is called to do: the reconciling work of Jesus Christ.” 

Fisher-Stewart believes the Trump administration has created even more urgency around the need to take action toward repairing the law enforcement breach. “If we don’t do something, nothing is going to change,” she says. “And most likely, it’s going to get worse now that we have a ‘law and order’ President again. We know what ‘law and order’ means in this country – it means mass incarceration. Trump said the other day to the major city [police] chiefs, ‘You don’t have the weapons you need.’ Weapons? Are you going to war? And if you’re going to war, who’s your enemy? And if the community is the enemy, that’s a problem. And it makes it dangerous for civilians and the police.”

The conference will provide attendees with concrete tools to engage in this work toward change. “There is so much to do that you can get paralyzed with inaction because you don’t know where to start,” Fisher-Stewart says. “This conference is a way to start, because the church is about relationship. And if everybody who comes to this conference makes one contact with the chief of their jurisdiction face-to-face, then we start seeing each other as human beings as opposed to enemies.”

“The Police are Public; The Public are the Police – Repairing the Breach” will take place Saturday, April 1 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. The free event is limited to 200 participants. Breakfast and lunch will be served. Register online by February 28.