Bishop of California makes statement about police deaths

Calls for work for justice, even in grief

Posted Jul 8, 2016

The following statement was released on The Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus’ blog this morning (July 8):

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; … You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

During a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas last night, snipers killed five police officers and wounded seven more. Last night was the most police causalities the United States has seen since September 11, 2001. I have just learned of police being shot outside St. Louis and in Georgia, as well. I weep for the additional loss of life as a result of gun violence. While some voices were saying that those advocating for police demilitarization and accountability wanted the murders of police officers, leaders within the Black Lives Matter movement were calling the shootings horrific, and insisting that Black Lives Matter does not stand for killing police officers. According to the Dallas Police Chief, one suspect in the shootings said that he was not with Black Lives Matter and was working alone.

That suspect made his statement before the police blew him up with an explosive-equipped robot. Although the police feared for their safety, this man had a right to due process. Protestors in Portland last night were met by police in riot gear — and a man who pulled a gun was arrested, not shot, and not “detonated.”

Justice is not a zero-sum game; it is possible to curb abuses by police without calling for their executions. No one — let alone Black Lives Matters organizers — is calling for police execution. Catholic ethicist and theologian Tobias Winright — who served as a police officer before studying theology, and who has taught ethics at police academies — says, “[P]olicing doesn’t have to be what it has evolved into. It will still be dangerous at times and yes, it may still require the use of force. But that shouldn’t be what policing is all about. That is an instrument; it is not the essence of policing.” In this interview Winright recounts the evolution of policing in the United States and commends the book The rise of the warrior cop by Radley Balko.

I am asking the deacons of our diocese — those who have a special ministry under their bishop, and who are called to work on the margins — to begin organizing lobbying efforts at the city, county, state, and federal levels of government to impact both police use of force and overall gun violence. Our newsletters and social media presences will update those interested. We will also be sharing information about marches and vigils as we have it, and may be hosting one ourselves. Vigils and prayer must move us to act for legislating changes to behavior and policy. Campaign Zero’s Take Action page offers easy-to-use tools for contacting elected officials with specific policy requests — including in great detail on the Solutions page.

Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” No one is calling for an eye for an eye. We grieve the loss of lives of the police officers in Dallas, and we grieve the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was their extrajudicial deaths that spurred this most recent round of demonstrations which will continue as long as people of color are more likely to be killed by police than white people and until there are changes in policy. Black lives matter. Blue lives matter, too — but not more.

We cannot ignore the problems of systemic racism that plague our society and are more clearly visible in police brutality as a result of ubiquitous video cameras and social media. We must not, as the prophet Jeremiah warns against, treat the wounds of our people carelessly and cry “peace, peace” when there is no peace. We must work for justice, even in our grief.