Last week my heart sunk as I heard about shots being fired at officers in Ferguson, Mo. I have been a police chaplain for the past 15 years in the LA area, and I live with the fear that something like this may happen to one of my officers. Since the death of Michael Brown, there has been an increase in suspicion and anger towards police. There is very real hurt, pain and loss in our communities, and I can’t begin to understand what it is like to walk in anyone else’s shoes. I don’t even know what it is like to walk in an officer’s shoes. But I do see some of the challenges officers face.
Their job is difficult.
In order to do their job well, ensuring both their survival at the end of the shift as well as the survival of those in the communities they serve, officers are hypervigilant (in a state of heightened awareness of potential threats). It only takes a moment for a threat to potentially take their life or someone else’s.
In addition to always being alert, they deal with difficult crime scenes, unthinkable pain and suffering. We ask them to do a job that is incredibly hard for the human heart to take. They may respond in one day to a call of the death of a baby, a traffic accident, an assault. There is no time for them to process what they are experiencing because they need to do their job. Behind the badge there is a human being. My priority as a chaplain is for officers to go home at the end of their shift alive and well.
Officers go into law enforcement to make a difference in and to serve their communities. I have yet to meet an officer who said they wanted to take a life; that is their worst nightmare. Officers that have been involved in such tragedies often have difficulty continuing in the job.
Their job is costly.
In my 15 years at my agency, I have buried two officers who were killed in the line of duty. On average, one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty in the U.S. every 58 hours. Law enforcement is referred to as the thin blue line which symbolizes the police who stand as the protectors of community from crime. When they put on the badge at the beginning of each shift, they are consciously saying, ”I am willing to lay down my life for the community; For others, I will put myself in harm’s way.”
Not who but what is our enemy?
Systemic injustice, prejudice, oppression, marginalization – these are our enemies, not each other. We must not only acknowledge that injustice, prejudice, oppression and marginalization are real and wrong on every level, but we must do something as we respond with the love of Jesus. We must fight this systemically and in our individual hearts. In this process, it is hard not to “otherize” which makes or regards a person or group as different and separate from “us.” Neuropsychological research tells us that when we “otherize,” we place people outside of the circle of us and may even deny our shared humanity. The more we demonize each other, the harder it is for us to value one another. How can we disagree and not otherize? How can we seek justice and hold each other accountable, while seeing each other as those made in the image of our Creator God? Officers, just like us, need to know that they are God’s children first and foremost.
By God’s design, we need each other. If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. This African Proverb holds great meaning for me. Collaboration begins with a commitment to the value of each other and the understanding that it takes time to listen, learn and move together toward shared values. Police need to be welcomed participants in the community development process. They share our commitment to the betterment of our communities, and together, we must seek God’s peace and restoration. I truly believe that through prayer, valuing of each other, respect and a willingness to work together, we will find a better way.
May God fill us with grace, peace and unity as we seek the welfare of our cities.
–Dr. Mary Glenn (Board Member)
Fuller Seminary/City Net | Pasadena, CA
Rev. Leroy Barber (Chair)
Word Made Flesh | Portland, OR
“We are saddened, once again, by the violence and racial tensions seen across our country and most recently in the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, MI. As Christians, the Imago Dei calls us to value human life, protecting and nurturing its development. The actions of shooting police officers violates that value and speaks to an even stronger issue that police officers are often viewed as “the other” instead of community leaders and partners. We must come together and work to collaborate not only along racial, class and political lines but across the roles we play in our communities, seeking to work alongside each other for peace, restoration and reconciliation.”
Mrs. Mayra Macedo-Nolan (Vice-Chair)
Lake Avenue Church | Pasadena, CA
“As a community leader in California who works collaboratively with law enforcement on strengthening our community, I was saddened to learn of the recent shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri. Saddened because I believe that violence is not a solution to our racial problems, saddened because I want us to learn to work together and saddened that the levels of frustration around race and injustice is so high that some people respond in destructive ways. Yet even though this is a shared sadness, as Christians Jesus said that in this world we will have trouble, but to be of good cheer because He has overcome the world. This is our hope in even the darkest of times.”
Marshall Hatch (Chair of the CCDA Biblical Justice Committee)
New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church | Chicago, IL
“Our prayers are with the courageous police officers wounded in Ferguson. Faithful police are peace officers and represent our collective line of defense against godless anarchy. Dr. King has taught us that true justice can only come through nonviolence.”