A guest blog by Anahkwud Mihgiizay, Ajiijak Dodem (Wendy Stone), a descendant of some of the continent’s original inhabitants, the Chippewa and Peoria peoples. (She also is a direct descendant of Gouveneur Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and framer of the US Constitution.) Originally from Michigan, she now lives in Minneapolis. Ms. Stone volunteers for the Great Lakes Peace Center, Mask Movement (a response to the coronavirus) and water protection, environmental, and human equality organizations.
Churches of Minnesota! It’s time to use your might and faith for real change, embracing your values of love and justice. Right now. This is your moment, if you have the courage to challenge yourself and your members.
You cannot “support the good police officers” by continuing to defend the very corrupt and dysfunctional systems created by and for the police. It’s time to acknowledge the basic truth: The system has shown us time and again that it’s utterly broken. George Floyd’s murder is just the latest exclamation point.
Here are concrete ways you can act. The ideas below were put forward by people of color, leading other people of color, who have devoted years to dismantling the laws that perpetuate the cycles of brutality and protests. These are tangible, effective ways you can leverage your congregation’s position and influence.
Rise up. Right now. Encourage every member to contact their elected representatives and demand the following:
- Change the Minnesota statute that prevents cities and counties from requiring police to live in the communities they serve (a.k.a. repeal the “Stanek Amendment”). Having police live where they serve builds community and understanding.
- Change laws that provide a different set of rules for criminal behavior perpetrated by the police than is applied to every other citizen.
- Pass laws that require police to carry personal liability insurance. It would work like malpractice insurance for doctors. At a minimum, do it to keep your tax dollars from going to pay huge settlements to families devastated by police brutality. The liability insurance premiums go up every time an officer’s actions require a payout, just like for doctors who mess up. Eventually, the bad officers won’t be able to afford their premiums and will be done causing pain and suffering as “public servants.”
- Demand shifting tax dollars from the police for functions they shouldn’t be performing. Other countries and some U.S. communities have chosen to fund mental health and/or chemical dependency crisis response teams instead of dispatching armed officers.
- Demand increased funding of organizations that strengthen communities through addressing poverty, homelessness, lack of jobs, educational disparities and other precursors of criminal actions.
We need church leaders to physically stand up. Organize rallies (online or in person, accounting for pandemic risks), marches, and letter-writing and phone call campaigns to elected officials to force them to ACT RIGHT NOW. DO NOT STOP UNTIL CHANGE HAPPENS!
Right now, city councils, county commissions and the state legislature should be working together, drafting bipartisan legislation to address the root causes of police brutality and the subsequent outpouring of grief and rage in brutalized communities. Don’t let them put off fixing the system, thinking their constituents yet again will be happy with the status quo after the immediate conflict stops.
Pulpit prayers and platitudes haven’t done much for people of color in many generations. Sending food, water or medical supplies is certainly nice, but it’s a literal Band-Aid when you could use your power and influence to prevent more murder and mayhem. Use your privilege and power for REAL change.
Fewer and fewer Americans regularly attend faith services or even identify as a specific denomination for a reason. They see faith communities with resources and influence do little to actually change the systemic problems that perpetuate suffering for many people. It’s one thing to sing “red or yellow, black or white, they are precious in His sight” and another to get out of our pews and comfort zones, and work hard to make that verse a reality.
My own family history has shown how easy it is for people of faith to be complacent.
My grandfather, Rev. Harold Krieg, was an Evangelical United Bretheran/Methodist preacher who served an all-white congregation during the Civil Rights era. He preached in another riot-torn city, Jackson, Michigan. He believed that the church needed to use every lever of power to change laws used to oppress others. My father told me his dad had limited success in efforts to get his parishioners to do much more than pray.
Historically, faith communities have done little of the hard, public, and sustained work to create real change so that we become one American society, with equal opportunity and protection for all. Only then will the unrest subside and our cities cease to burn.
The time for simple prayer and simple supportive gestures is over. Anything less than organized pressure to change the political and legal landscape is equal to complicity in the next death, the next riot.
Thank you for listening. As human beings, we are all related; let us make the system work for all our relatives.