Lisa Sharon Harper: Coming to you from Washington DC, I am Lisa Sharon Harper, President of Freedom Road, a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap. Welcome to the Freedom Road podcast.
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Lisa: On June 4th, 2020, interfaith leaders from across the country came together to have, really, what ended up being a prophetic conversation. It was a conversation that catalyzed us to dream of another way of being together in the world. And it was in the light of, in the shadow, of one night where 175 fires were burning all across America, in 175 different cities in response to the death of George Floyd, and the lack of justice with regard to policing and law enforcement. So, these faith leaders had a critical conversation at a critical moment. And Freedom Road convened at the meeting in partnership with faith and public life and Auburn Seminary, so we need to say thank you to them. But it was such a great conversation that we thought we need to bring this over to the podcast. The folks who listen to our podcast need to also hear this conversation. So, sit back, relax, get your popcorn, get your dinner. Listen, listen to this conversation and just for a moment, dream with us of another way of being in the world.
Lisa: We are excited to come to you today from all over the country for a national town hall on policing and law enforcement from a group of interfaith leaders from all over the country. I am so happy to help bring this to you. My name is Lisa Sharon Harper. I am the President and Founder of Freedom Road, LLC. We are a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap. That is the gap between the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves and how we got here, because we believe as large as that gap is there, the more resistance we will have to change injustice.
Lisa: I want to introduce some of the other people who will be working with us today and also people who helped make this happen. Our first panel, we have Leroy Barber and Valarie Kaur, and Otis Moss III, who I will be introducing, all three of them, in a little bit. But first, I want to introduce you to the people who are behind this, like who made this happen. So, house power is a hashtag that we started around these town halls, the last town hall, and first one we did was for Covid. We were talking about the power of staying in our homes, the fact that we can beat Covid by staying home, right? But then we realized, this is actually a really great organizing platform, a place where we can hold town halls on a regular, and we decided to do this one. This is the second one that we have ever done. And the “we” there is Mr. Leroy Barber, and also Shane Claiborne will be coming up later.
We are doing this in partnership with Red Letter Christians, The Voices Project, United Methodist Church Northwest, and Auburn Seminary. I want to say a special thank you to Auburn Seminary because Auburn Seminary dedicated a behind-the-scenes team and also a company of incredible senior fellows who you will be meeting in the course of this time. They raised their hands and they said, “I want to be part of this.” So, Reverend Doctor Otis Moss III is one of those senior fellows. Bishop Yvette Flunder is another one. Rabbi Sharon Brous is another. Valarie Kaur, she is also a senior fellow at Auburn. Stosh Cotler with Bend the Arc is also. And Michael-Ray Mathews regretted that he is not able to be with us today, but he was also one of those fellows who is, I think, one of the first ones to say I am in.
Lisa: Let me just say that this is an important conversation. We are here to dream. The reason why we are coming together, as faith leaders, is because people of faith, leaders of faith, have a particular capacity to dream, because dreaming takes faith. You have got to have faith in order to be able to dream and push toward that dream. We got to asking the question, what could it look like to have a fully reformed policing and law enforcement system? And what would it even look like to dig up the root of human hierarchy that has been enforced by our current policing system and plant a new seed? So, I have invited about thirteen of my closest friends to come and have this conversation with us today. On this panel, we have Reverend Doctor Otis Moss III, we have Valarie Kaur, we have Reverend Leroy Barber. I am going to just toss a question to each of you, and I want you just to share with us from the heart, and then we will go into conversations. So, Reverend Doctor Otis Moss III, your requiem for Ahmaud Arbery was magnificent. I mean, it was literally, can somebody say ‘off the hook.’ In it, you trace the history that brought us to where we are right now. I wondered if you can share that history for us for a moment.
Otis Moss III: Certainly. Again, I want to thank you, Lisa, for bringing us together for this conversation. We are in the midst of two pandemics, one Covid-19, and the other is the pandemic I call Covid-1619, the moment that we landed on the shores of North America. This particular pandemic is rooted in predatory self-interest. It begins by stating that Black people are only three-fifths of a human being, which is enshrined in our Constitution. But when Black people …we were emancipated, not by somebody else, but because of our resistance. We are emancipated from 1865 to 1877. Many people of African descent moved into the Senate, into the Congress, into local legislators, and we had some of the highest level of governmental efficiency. But reconstruction, resistance, always led to white resentment. We moved into a period of lynching, and what we call criminalization. The Black body was criminalized. Now, please understand this: White supremacy has a hierarchy. White supremacy is socially constructed. But the idea of criminality, in itself, because of the insanity of racism, functions in a particular way. Think about it. The same people you want to raise your children, the same people you want to build your homes, the same people that you trust with your very life, and all of a sudden after four million are released into freedom, they all of a sudden are then defined as a criminal because of competing labor practices, Black labor and white labor. In order to ensure and protect white ethnic labor, you then had to criminalize Black people and contain…
Otis: …its system. You had to say, where two or three black people are gathered, then therefore, you need a pass. You then had to prove if you were a citizen, your longform birth certificate, that is a long trope within the American system. You then criminalize black people to the point, so they can then go to jail and then work for private companies. Reconstruction, the rebuilding of Birmingham, Atlanta, Charlotte, all these other places, was because of Black people who were reenslaved through the penal system placed in the criminal justice system. Roughly about a half million people were reenslaved all the way up to 1972. From 1972 to 1976, America began to hammer out what we now called the “War on Drugs.” And what we are seeing today is the bubbling over of consistent resistance in America. Let me frame this, when people use the word ‘looting,’ please, understand that America was the first place to loot. They looted land from indigenous people, they looted the bodies of African-Americans, and we now have a Looter-In-Chief, who is Covid-45, who is spreading a pandemic of COVID-19, and is also been deeply affected by Covid-1619. So, we need to be able to frame this appropriately. What we are seeing today, though, is the first time of a multiracial movement. If we were to take every protester together, I think that we might have a 60-40 split. Sixty being white, 40 being Black, in every area across the nation and across the globe. That gives me hope that the antibodies, The Vaccine of Hope, is moving in the spirit of the people in the United States of America.
Lisa: Valarie Kaur, you are the Founder and Director of Revolutionary Love, which is a really prolific organization that is really pushing for us to love as the revolution. So, what does it take to transform a police department? Let us know that because I know that you have experience with that.
Valarie Kaur: Yes, let me say first, I am so moved and proud to be with you as my Black sisters and brothers and siblings. I just want to say, in an act of solidarity and fierce love, that I see you, I am grieving with you, and I am raging with you. I believe, as Otis has mentioned, my brother Otis, that there are more of us who are non-Black people of color and white allies, standing with you today, centering anti-Black racism than ever before. That this may feel like 1968 and 1982, but there are thousands of us, moving from resistance to reimagining the world that ought to be. This is what I want to speak into, and this is what I want to offer to this conversation in this act of solidarity. I am a lawyer [and] I was part of a campaign working with a Latinx community to end a reign of terror by a police department. And we won. I am going to tell you the story of how it happened and the elements that I think might be useful for any of us who are engaged in local struggles today, and the place of faith leaders in that struggle.
In 2009, I was asked to attend a meeting in a church basement in East Haven, Connecticut, a sleepy industrial town. The priests brought a community together; the Latinx family members were pulling back their sleeves to show their scars at the hands of local police, tasering, beating. This is a police department that killed Malik Jones in the 1990s. Note: injustice was not done. When the priests asked the community, “Can you stand up now?” They said, “No, it is too dangerous.” You know what the priest did, Father James Manship, he wrote a line on the board and said, “What is the world as it is? And what is the world as it ought to be? The world as it ought to be, who has the power?” And they said, “Well, the police have the power now and the mayor has the power now.” He is like, “No, but the… somebody in the front said the people.” That is right. The people have the power when God is in their hearts. We are not alone. We have our lawyers here. I was a law student at the time, but in that moment, we became a coalition of faith leaders, community members, lawyers and law students, and we launched a full-throated campaign. Not just to remove a few bad apples from the department, but to take on a pattern and practice of racial profiling by this department. And traditional lawyering, you just use one blunt tool. But when you are movement lawyering, you open a toolkit, we use public advocacy, media advocacy, legislative advocacy, before we ever filed a single lawsuit.
The turning point came when we got the Department of Justice to investigate. This was under the Obama era, and the only department that was investigated by the Obama era before he has taken was Sheriff Arpaio in Maricopa County. So, this was monumental. The police did not respond kindly. They lawyered up. I remember being in meetings where the police were retaliating against the community members who stood up, but when we stood next to them, I remember being trailed by police as I am driving home from school. It was a scary project and it took three years. But after three years, the Department of Justice released a monumental consent decree. Four police officers were arrested and put behind bars, accused of conspiracy, false arrest, excessive use of force, and obstruction of justice. And this is the extraordinary thing, in order to create that consent decree, the law students, the clinic students, sat back in that church basement, and asked the community themselves to reimagine what public safety looked like in their community. They created seven demands, and it was up to us who are their allies and accomplices to translate those demands to the DOJ. They met six of those seven demands and we got the seventh one on a lawsuit. Today, the department in East Haven, Connecticut, it is not perfect, but the community had ended its reign of terror, transformed the police department. When Trump asked police to unleash deportation forces, the East Haven Police Department could not comply by order of the consent decree. And tomorrow, the East Haven Police Department is showing up at a Black Lives Matter rally in East Haven, issuing the solidarity of support saying, “We are going to march with you.”
So, this was not just resistance. This was transformation. And there are three elements that made it happen. One, the community was not just victims, we were the ones reimagining together. Number two, we had allies where every single one of us had a role, including not just allies, but accomplices, right? People who are conspiring to break chains together. And number three, we had a Department of Justice that was not gutted, that was designed to do what it did. So, that means that we can actually see the complete transformation that we need unless we all vote this fall and get these police departments going that direction. So, this is why I believe faith leaders have those spaces to open up and expand our moral imagination, and to partner with those who can actually translate that into concrete policy change.
Lisa: Thank you so, so much. Leroy Barber is the Director of The Voices Project, and also heads up, Innovation and Justice Ministry for the United Methodist Church Northwest. Leroy, here is my question for you, brother. You also come out of the evangelical church, right? There are those who have created a Theology of Law and Order around Romans 13:1-7. How do you respond to these individuals and pastors?
Leroy Barber: We respond out of the history that begins in Exodus, right? Where these Hebrew midwives led the first protest that we can, right? First protest against Pharaoh is the tradition in which we sit, right? I say to those who follow Roman 13, you need to go back to Exodus and see that this is embedded deeply in the heart of Scripture. And to answer that question quickly, there is where it starts for me. Three years ago now, off of Colin Kaepernick kneeling. At that time, we gave up football, and we went around the whole country for a whole year, kneeling, saying nothing, right? Gathering a group of Black folks, kneeling out status stadiums, got harassed by cops and all kinds of folks. And that peaceful protest, if you will, right, no one liked. Now, that the noise is rising higher, I think, folks are just tired and when Black folks get tired, don’t mean we stop, it means that we fight harder. I think that is where we are. I think where we are is we are fighting. We are tired and fighting.[background music plays]
Lisa: These are our stories. You are listening to the Freedom Road podcast, where we bring you stories from the front lines of the struggle for justice.[background music only]
Lisa: We are living in the kinds of times that seed books, blogs, magazine articles, and op-eds that move the world forward. Are words floating in your head, looking for a place to land? Do you need a safe space to write and share your work with other writers, and receive feedback that helps to hone it, sharpen it, make it even better? Freedom Road is launching an international writing group online. Writers from across the globe will come together on Zoom, making space and writing. In each other’s presence, but in our living rooms, like good citizens do when we are social distancing. Then we are going to share what God poured into the world through us. Your one-year membership can lock in your spot in this international writing community, or you can pay month-to-month. Follow the link in the show notes on our website at FreedomRoad.us to register today.[background music only]
Lisa: This next panel is actually going to feature Reverend Jim Wallis, Rabbi Sharon Brous, and also Bishop Darren Ferguson when he gets here… here he comes. Okay, here he is. Okay. Very, very good. Everybody, thank you so much for showing up. Thank you so much for thinking that you have been doing in preparation for this conversation. Let us dive in. Reverend Jim Wallis is with Sojourners, and your work takes you into the halls of power. You have been at this work now for going on 45 years. Is not that we know, it is going on 50 years now? How long have you been?
Jim Wallis: No, I started when I was six.
Lisa: Now, how were you with Sojourners? But ’71, 1971…
Jim: Almost 50 years.
Lisa: Almost 50 years? So, folks, we have somebody with some longevity, with memory here. Then, we also have Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar. And it is based in Los Angeles and she, if you have not seen her TED Talk, absolutely fabulous and amazing. I have a question to start you guys off. Are there any overlapping or similar principles between faith traditions, as it relates to policing and law enforcement? And if so, how can we come together over these principles?
Sharon Brous: Okay, first of all, just incredible and immense gratitude. I really understand the weight of this moment, just hearing the echoes of Lisa Sharon Harper’s voice saying, “Black people are tired. Black people are tired,” and that was before George Floyd was murdered. And so, I stand with you, beside you, and feel honored to be present here with you today. Lisa Sharon Harper says that we are here to dream. It is such a powerful language to hear in this moment because we know that our system is entrenched in racism, as my dear friend, Reverend Otis Moss just said, “Rooted. The system is rooted in predatory self-interest,” and fundamentally, contradictory to all of our core values as people of faith. So, the question is really, “What is the dream?” I want to just draw us today through one rabbinic idea that comes from a text, a Midrash called Devarim Rabbah. Where the rabbi has ask us to imagine that a procession of angels marches before every single individual saying, “Make way for the image of the Holy One is coming. Make way for the image of the Holy One.” And I want to ask us in this dreamscape that you have created here, at least, imagine for a moment an idea of concept that is so core and so fundamental to my faith tradition. I know too many of ours, which is the notion of being created in the image of God, means that we need and deserve to be treated as the image of God. And that is not true for one of us, or for some of us, but absolutely, for all of us. I believe that what this moment is demanding of us is a kind of radical thinking, about paradigm shifts, about not how can we cut the corners and make tweaks and make things a little bit better, but when this is over, how will the world look dramatically different from what it looked like before? And I just pray that when that new world becomes a manifest, it is rooted in the dream that every single one of us is, in fact, an image of the Divine.
Lisa: Amen. And for you, Jim, what do you see as those overlapping principles that we can draw from?
Jim: I think that the faith word that is going to change things is epiphany. Here is what I had one yesterday. We went out to do a solidarity vigil on the police line in front of the White House, and the reflection for me there was pray. Prayer is essential, protest is required, and policy is necessary. I have never seen in my life, so many white people, ever caring about racism, America’s original sin, and the police violence and murder against people of color. I have never seen that as much as yesterday. So, my epiphany with this begin when I was sixteen. Today is my birthday; I am 72. When I was 16, a black co-worker at Detroit Edison, we were both janitors, asked me to come home with him to meet his mom and his kids. We got talking that night about Detroit. This is 19, around 1967, when the so-called riot occurred because of a police incident. A mother said, his mom said, “So I tell my kids, if you’re ever lost and can’t find your way home, and you see a policeman, duck under a stairwell, hide behind a building, wait ’til he’s gone, and then find your way home.” When she said that, my mother’s words echoed in my ears to her five kids, “Can’t find your way home, look for a policeman. He is your friend, he will take you by the hand, and bring you home.” That was an epiphany. Another epiphany, I was in Sing Sing Prison with his brother named Darren Ferguson. This brother said, “Jim, you should all know that we’re all in Sing Sing from four or five neighborhoods in New York City.” Like a train, he said, “That begins in neighborhoods like mine, and ends up in places like Sing Sing.” Those are …epiphanies changes, just talk, theology, political analysis…
Darren Ferguson: Even your neighborhood…
Jim: …then my point does not change things. We need epiphany. I saw thousands of young people having an epiphany together on the street, yesterday in Washington, DC. We are at a moment, where we have not been for a long time, when faith communities click together, talk about a movement for police reform. Right here, right now. Immediate, short term, build long term, and then ready for it, we have to act very, very soon. Form must become a theological agenda, all of our fake news.
Lisa: That is fabulous. Thank you so much, Jim. Bishop Darren Ferguson, you are that man who was in Sing Sing. You got your MDiv, I believe, in Sing Sing. Is that right?
Darren: Well, certificate in a…
Darren: …outside with you.
Lisa: The question that I want to ask you is, how do we navigate within our faith in many of our churches, and our firmly embedded in the white supremacists ideals that not only improve, but encourage this type of policing that results in the deaths of a Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Mr. George Floyd? Do you have a sense of, have you actually been speaking to that within your faith communities?
Darren: Yes, a lot, Lisa. One of the things that I learned, my last paper before I got my certificate at Sing Sing was entitled “Plantation Theology.” What we have is a lot of Black churches in America practicing theologies rooted in European-Christian thought, which we use to justify the African diaspora, chattel slavery, all the way up to modern-day nationalism. So, this imperial mindset depends on optics and not efficacy, and it’s all so the Black church the demanding in America may put on a bounce check that Dr. King spoke about. We become mired, in the ways of our presents, in this plantation deficit-based bootstrap theology that has seen hollow hints in the depositing nothing into the fight for equality. In my opinion, the Black church and the church universal has to cease and desist from begging for tolerance at the table of a wicked master and asking a pivotal question, “How do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Our Black churches have to realize our considerable political and economic power. We have to live our prophetic voices and not allow ourselves to wallow in the laziness of this name and claim it, blab it, and grab it ministry that wants us to hashtag our way into change because change is our sacrifice. And the catalyst for the change we want to see in the book of Exodus was when privileged Moses, who and assimilated from his rescue from the Nile river, began to identify with his own people and meted out punishment on an Egyptian cop. So, we modern day Moseses, the dialogue and understanding, we have to bring him to the house of Jethro and get them to understand our proud past, and then encourage them to go forth and go to the modern-day barrel to demand the release of our people, demand freedom from jails and prisons, from nooses, and knees on next to George Floyd.
For the past, they kill Breonna Taylor to make Michael’s lynch mob in Brunswick, Georgia. We have to ask them to let us go and encourage the modern-day, the young ones, that the new Malcolms, and Martins, the new Harriets, Sojourners, and that turns to fight with the fullness of what I define as our Black African-American portion. That has to undergo the battle. And we have spiritual, legislative, and economic battle to ensure that we fulfill the legacy of the word’s spoken nepotism. She said, “If they do not give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” We have to fulfill the legacy of the first Scripture that Jesus read. Luke 4:18, which is Prophet Isaiah chapter 61, “The Spirit of the Lord God has to be upon us because the Lord has anointed us to preach good tidings to the poor. The Lord has anointed us to send this out to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives.” This is what we have to do. And we cannot do it under the guise of white supremacist theology that denies our Blackness, denies our humanity, and even denies our voices when we sing the Lord song in a strange land.
Lisa: Wow. We have a few minutes before we have to transition to the next panel. So, let me just ask you guys this, it seems like that the common principles that I am hearing are one, I just love that image that you gave Rabbi Brous, of, is it ‘a thousand angels walking before every single human being’ saying, “Look, way for the image of the Lord.” Oh my god, that makes me want to cry. Just the thought of that, that is how holy God saw and sees George Floyd. Yes, that is how holy God sees and saw, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and the list goes on, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland, and say all of their names, that is how holy God saw them. It seems like one of the principles that needs to be in place is the reality that we see them that way. We legislate as if there are 1000 angels before each person. And Bishop Darren Ferguson, what I hear from you is, I fear, the principle of ‘Let my people go, let the image of God, release the image of God.’ Whenever we do, we have to release the image of God. Is that right? Did I hear you, right?
Darren: Yes, you did. We have to release ourselves to be free from the theology of our captives.
Lisa: We are not asking to capture to release us, we have to release ourselves.
Darren: That is great.
Lisa: That is great.
Darren: We are the change we want to see.
Sharon: Can I add a piece to this episode?
Sharon: Next to the team up, Bishop Ferguson and Reverend Wallis were saying, “Moses need to leave the palace in order to see the humanity in the people who are being oppressed by the Egyptians. And as Reverend Moss said before, in the session before this, something is happening now where people, white people, are leaving the palace, and taking to the streets, and actually seeing some people for the very first time in their lives. The full depth of the inequities and the injustices, and this is the moment for that epiphany that can lead us to really see the image of God in all of us.
Jim: What they saw was white knee on a Black neck. And every Black parent in the country saw their sons and daughters under that knee. And now you got white parents saying, “Wait a minute, do I want to live in a country like this? Do I want to be okay?” And young people are saying, “No, you are not going to put, and that white knee is not a knee, it is a system. It is a structure. It is a whole. It is white supremacy, the knee of white supremacy we saw on the neck of one black man.” And that is changing people’s understanding of all our words. We say these words, and they go on and on, but that picture was seen around the world and we see each other differently. Now, in the white community, we are seeing things differently. A whole lot of young people who have not been involved in this conversation like the four of us have for a long time are seeing this for the first time, then it is an epiphany that is changing that.
Lisa: It sounds like there is an epiphany for all of us, right? There is an epiphany that Darren Ferguson, you are calling us people of color to have an epiphany about ourselves.
Darren: That is correct.
Lisa: And Jim, you are saying, white people are having an epiphany about the reality that a thousand angels walk before George Floyd. And Rabbi Brous, you have brought that image of the meaning, the deep meaning of the image of God. I want to thank you so much for your offering on this panel and this discussion. Please join the rest of the discussion online as our colleagues come and actually now, take these principles and help us dream. God bless you. Thank you.
Lisa: Shane Claiborne, Yvette Flunder, Stosh Cotler, and Simone Campbell. So, we get a little more people. All right, here we go. I am so excited for this conversation, you guys. Let us continue to talk. Let us continue to dream.
Lisa: I have a question for Bishop Flunder, who is the founder of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries. And then also for Shane Claiborne, co-founder of Red Letter Christians, and also Simple Way–The Community, The Simple Way. What is not working and how could you imagine it done differently? So now, we are in dream mode. Now, we are like, “Okay, all holds barred. If the cost was not the issue, if politics was not the issue, if we could have policing and law enforcement the way that or even public safety as it could be, what should it be?”
Yvette Flunder: Thank you, Lisa Sharon Harper. Appreciate you so much, my sister, and colleague, and to all my beloved that are on this call today, both, where I can see your faces and I can hear your hearts. Just as a backdrop, I would say that what I call political distancing. Regarding the role, particularly of law enforcement, is often empowered and informed by race-based theological supremacy. Systemic and religion is the hunger for supremacy. It makes many religious people blind to our common humanity.
Lisa: Say that again. Say what you just said again. Religious supremacy…
Yvette: The role of law enforcement is empowered and informed by race-based theological supremacy, and systemic in religion is the hunger for supremacy. “Mine is better than yours.” Many religious people blind to our common humanity, and none of us have a corner on the divine. And religion must stop using God to sanctify racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, or our hatred of the other, whoever the other is. We currently have a powerful moment, and I am deeply touched by everything that I have heard today. We have a new time. We have a fresh season. I heard Reverend Al Sharpton a few minutes ago say, “In our loss of our brother George Floyd, that it is time to reflect on our divine responsibility. And not to spend our lives simply trying to get to paradise, but to bring paradise. Heaven, justice, equal access, the realm of God and good to Earth. But we cannot go into this with our blinders on, because there is a price to pay.” And I am reminded briefly of the story of Moses, when he was about to shift and change from his privilege to his call. And he saw an Egyptian killing a Hebrew, and he killed the Egyptian, but the text says that before he killed the Egyptian, he looked both ways. Why did he look both ways? Because he did not want to be seen doing what he was doing, though he may have thought it was just to do it. He did not want to be seen because to be seen meant that he would lose his privilege. Why am I saying that? Because now it is time for us to be seen. We have got to have some holy risk.
Lisa: That is good.
Yvette: Holy risk takers. And I am grateful to our young people for a visual of the power of unity. And I am also grateful that in this peculiar time, the Holy Spirit has canonized George Floyd and made him the object, the person, the moment for us to come together as one. It is time for us to find our way to a common understanding of the divine’s need and the divine’s call for us in itself.
Lisa: Thank you. Shane…
Shane Claiborne: Thank you, Bishop. This is wonderful, to see all these faces, and friends, and people I love. I am sharing my comments from the context of my neighborhood where we have been dreaming for twenty years, but we woke up this morning with troops on the ground. We have on every corner military troops here in our neighborhood, and I noticed that they are carrying AR-15s – the very tools that we have been making garden plows out of these guns, inspired by the prophetic vision of turning swords into plows. I asked them if they would like to donate any of their guns this morning, but that dreaming is what we have been doing. So, what is not working? Just a few things that are not working are the police policing the police. Right? I mean, because when I came here that, wow, we can just report these things. Right? I saw a police officer in the middle of a snowstorm arresting somebody for a minor alleged crime, and then they took a shoe off of them and threw it over a fence, laughing that he would get out in the snow and have to walk home with one shoe on. We saw people hold folks down here and a homeless man that was mentally ill, and telling he deserved to die in the gutter. And I thought we would just report that. That officer was named “Officer of the Year” that year. So, this is not working. So, I have dream of not the police controlling the people, but the people controlling the police. It is like you have a Yelp reviews, we can review our police officers. That is just like those of us who fly a lot, you get those coupons that say, “You are over the top” when you do something great that we can. And I understand that flight attendants would get a thousand dollar raise when they got an over the top sticker. You know that we can actually celebrate good practices, and we can also hold police officers accountable. There is no real way to do that.
Shane: The other thing I dream of is, I think, what I learned in this encounter with police and my friend who struggles with mental health is that they are not trained to be social workers. So, I dream that we do not have police officers doing everything. That maybe as a nation, when you imagine a new group of first responders that are not coming armed and ready to escalate, but they are actually coming armed with the tools to disarm and deescalate, that they have the tools, they are trained for that. So, maybe it is a group of emergency social workers, right? That come and they are trained to try to figure out a situation and deescalate it. And the last thing I think of is, I think, the truth sets us free. We need to be truthful about the historic harm that has been done by the police. We need to see the police officers that have been accused and then convicted of crimes. My friend, Larry Krasner our DA, put up the profiles of police officers when the truth sets us free. And so, I will just say my last little dreaming vision is this picture of a police officer using his billy club to play wiffleball on our block. And that is the world that I want to see. It is where the police officers are coming and using billy clubs to play wiffleball rather than to terrorize our kids. Because I know kids in our neighborhood, that when they see a police officer, they have been so traumatized, they begin to cry and to shake. That is not the world we want to live in. Thank you all.
Lisa: Amen. Stosh Cotler with Bend the Arc, you have been the Ark of the Jewish partnership for justice. How do we practice dreaming? Because Shane just gave us a bunch of dreams that he has. And Simone is about to give us one more in terms of, she is going to share with us the economic edge of this, but I want you to share with us, what is the practice? How do we practice this?
Stosh Cotler: Yes. First, I just have to say, I am so deeply honored to be on this call and in this conversation. And I also want to say that Bishop, I am here as a holy risk taker, as an accomplice in this struggle, to defend Black lives, and to transform this country. And I feel like as people who come into this conversation and into this work with a spiritual practice of any kind, we have a very powerful set of scaffoldings within our own traditions that support our human ability to be disciplined in dreaming, and to be disciplined in our practice of dreaming, and the other way to think about dreaming is visioning. And so we have rituals and rites and all the different ways to on a daily, or weekly, or seasonal basis, be reminded over and over again, about what is truly core, which is of course this intrinsic human connection among and between all of us, and in relationship to that, which we have many names for in every tradition. In addition to having a scaffolding, we also have either a vision for a perfected world or an understanding of what it means to be human, without suffering, or a vision of a perfected world to come. And so, as an example, in Judaism, we have a weekly practice of Shabbat, which is not just a pause in giving ourselves a time to deeply rest and make a sacred space in time itself, but also to embody perfection every single week.
And so, the thing I want us to remember is that we as human beings are always practicing something. And as human beings, we always get better at what we practice. So, if you take anyone who has mastery in any domain, a preacher, an artist, they have practiced hours, and hours, and hours, to be amazing. We have heard from many of them, you, Lisa Sharon Harper. So, the question is really like, are we practicing what we want to become? Are we, as a society, practicing who we want to be? And for most of us, I would say, we are practicing things like gossip. We are defaulting into habitual ways of practicing racism for white people. For many white people, we are practicing unexamined ways that we put our trust into police without thinking or knowing or asking questions about how others experience that. And so, my best thinking around this is that we have what we need. We have the tools. And, I think, if we actually put those who are directly impacted by these injustices, and for right now, at this time, we are talking about Black people, putting Black people at the very center of our communal rituals to ask these questions, what is the practice that we can have together, that we will be disciplined in doing day after day, season after season, to uproot racism and to uproot anti-Black racism in particular, for all of our sakes.
Lisa: Awesome. Wow. So, that is what I am talking about. We are talking about the practice. So, Sister Simone runs Network Lobby and she killed it – was it at the 2014 Democratic Convention?
Simone Campbell: Well, 2012.
Lisa: 2012, Democratic Convention. I remember watching that and that I bet, I was fangirling and everything. But I want to ask you Sister Simone, since you really major on the numbers, how does the future of policing intersect with the economic situation of our communities? What can we do differently, economically in order to begin to dream a better world?
Simone: Well, I think if we are going to dream a better world, we have to acknowledge that a bunch of the role of the police has been protecting exactly those who live in the palace, that you were talking about Bishop Flunder. And that we have to be willing to invite everybody out of the palace and say, “You got to come live with us, y’all.” You cannot do this economic domination. Because if we disentangle that economic domination and the economic oppression that is going on, historically since 1619, we can then change and move towards that kind of engagement that you were talking about, Shane, and Stosh, that would be the envisioning that we would need. The big challenge is that our economic system has been built around white supremacy. And we just have to be clear about that. It has been built on the backs of African Americans, first as slaves, and then as sharecroppers and laborers. I never realized that until I started studying this, that the white plantation owners, after the Civil War were paid for their loss of property. That was the freeing of the slaves, but the slaves were never paid for their loss of labor, for the fact that they had worked without salaries, without payment. And so, the disequilibrium in our society, really got thrown out of whack, and out of any sort of balance in that and we have just built on that. So, I think what we have to do is see that economic intersection, see the fact that the reason we have so many African Americans and other people of color dying in this Covid crisis is because they are the most vulnerable frontline workers. It is the work, it is not that, and the fact that we have historically kept low wage workers out of our health care systems. So, it’s those kinds of intersections that we have to see the inequality, and we, white folks, have a lot of work to do to get over ourselves, quite frankly. And so, to see us as united in this world that we care so much about, but I think the key is from the book of Sirach. It says in chapter seventeen, verse six, “He gave them a heart to think with,” and I think that is what we have to do. We have to think with our hearts, and that will free us. Engage in all different ways to see the intersections and be able to move.
Lisa: That is so powerful. We have people in the chat who were saying, “Defend the police.” And I totally I am like, “Yes.” The thing is, you cannot just rip it down, it is got to be something else built up. Right? So what I love, I saw the report last night that Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles decided to take a hundred million dollars that he had been planning on putting into the police, and instead shift that funding over to the services that would actually help build up and keep people from becoming poor. So, what do you think of that? What do you think of the project of the economics, like in terms of the funding of the police?
Simone: And that is critical, because the police have gotten a lot of money to buy really war time weaponry. And the reason that has happened is because of the military industrial complex that has sold them, and gained a lot of profit by getting federal money to give local police military weapons. And so to shift that, to say it is about relationship, oh, what a step forward.[background music plays]
Lisa: Walking freedom road from coast to coast and around the globe, this is the Freedom Road Podcast.[background music plays]
Woman: Thinking CAP is a weekly podcast hosted by the Center for American Progresses, Michele Jawando and Igor Volsky. In the current political moment, we find ourselves in, full of protests, anger, and activist momentum, Thinking CAP hopes to lay the groundwork for the bold progressive policy ideas we need to continue moving this movement and our country forward. You can find new episodes each Thursday on Apple podcasts, SoundCloud, and americanprogress.org, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find them on Twitter, @thinkcappod.[background music plays]
Lisa: Our next panel is going to help us know what to do now. So, we got some heavy hitters up in here. Thank you so much. And we have Reverend Liz Theoharis of the Poor People’s Campaign that has come out. She is going to help us to talk about, what are the ways we can take action in order to help alleviate, and not even alleviate, transform the way that we do public safety from perspective of the poor. We also have Reverend Adam Taylor with Sojourners. We heard from Jim earlier out of the next generation of leaders at Sojourners. And we also have Reverend Andrea Alexander from the National Council of Churches, and she heads up all of their racial justice stuff and more, and we are going to have a conversation. The question is, how can we move forward towards this other way of being together in the world, in the United States, concerning public safety and law enforcement?
Adam Taylor: Thank you, Lisa. It is so good to be with all of you, such an amazing and really important conversation. I want to frame this a little bit theologically. Many of us are familiar with the concept, the theological concept of kairos. I learned a ton about kairos in my experience in South Africa, from church leaders there, and they share with me that they are experiencing kairos. Kairos moments are when the reality around us becomes so fraudulent, so depraved, so egregious, that it can force a moment of reckoning and awakening. And I know sometimes we throw out the term ‘tipping point a little too much,’ but it really does feel like this moment is different. It really does feel like it can be and should be, must be, a tipping point. But that requires that we build greater power, and then we sustain so much of this activism and pressure and translate it into power. Dr. King once said, “The collision of immoral power with powerless morality constitutes the central crisis of our time.” And unfortunately, we still do not have enough powerful morality. It is really inspiring to see all of these millions of white allies, some who were allies before, some are new allies, it is really inspiring to see many white pastors wanting to say more and preach more. But what we have to do is we have to ensure that so many of these folks end up voting in this next election, that is one way in which we can exercise our power. Sojourners is doing everything we can to ensure that people can vote, particularly Black communities can vote in this next election, so we got to work to protect the vote.
The second is we need substantive and comprehensive policy reform. And some of that, I think, is very possible in the short term, even before the election. There needs to be inordinate pressure placed on police chiefs and mayors in this moment. I know they some foundations are doing some of this great work, Campaign Zero, 8 Can’t Wait, there are lots of different policy initiatives out there, but we need the faith community to be a moral voice that pushes in a very, very powerful way on mayors and police chiefs to adopt the very reforms we know are necessary and that are going to save lives. And then lastly, we do need policy transformation. And that certainly has to happen through, hopefully, an electoral transformation in November. Going back to my point about voting, there also has to mean that, again, we are more engaged in ongoing organizing, mobilizing advocacy efforts. And certainly, you know, some of the work Sojourners is doing is one option, but there is so many great organizations involved in this call that are part of that broader movement.
Lisa: Thank you, Adam.
Andrea Alexander: I love the concept of dreaming a world, right? Michelle Alexander’s book about The New Jim Crow, and I would say that this is not the new Jim Crow, of course, it is just the new level that are revolving of slavery itself. The fourteenth of the Thirteenth Amendment, it abolished the involuntary servitude and slavery except for… and so, we have slavery today. And so, when you say what can we move forward, and what can we do? And I hear, I hear, I hear. What we need to do is abolish slavery. We have to start with steps towards abolishing the carceral system that currently exist in this country. And there are steps that have to be done of course, not believing that, but the goal should be to abolish slavery. And also, engaging our powers. And this is part of that’s all the policy thing, the praying protests that Dr. Wallis talked about earlier. But I think about this idea of engaging our powers, and the first and most, the greatest power we have is the divine that is within us. And so, we need to unite the hands, feet, and voice of the divine together, then that power will overcome all the principalities and powers and systems that are in high places. That is the greatest power. And so, yes, we have that. If we keep those things at the core of what we do and our policy seeking, then we know what our ultimate goal is. When I walk in and I do our congressional visits, and everybody goes around the table to introduce themselves, I always say, “Well, I am looking to have God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.” That is where we start and then we negotiate down from there.
Lisa: I just love that. Can I come along next time?
Andrea: An army is rising.
Lisa: Yes, yes. Awesome. Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis, I am sure with us, what do you see as the way that you can walk forward into that new way of being together in the world?
Liz Theoharis: So, I really appreciate the conversation and what has been said already. As the director of the Kairos Center, I think about kairos moments all the time. The breaking down of the old, the destructive, the hateful, the bigoted, the impoverished, and the breaking thru of the new. And when we think about the current situation that is happening in this country, more than a hundred thousand people dead. The New York Times, Columbia University says that it did not have to be this way with Covid-19. Where we have over, and over, and over again police violence against black and brown bodies. The killing of George Floyd and so many, too many people. And then you have these institutions of our society just failing people, right? How is it that it took months and months of a botched response for even any health care workers to get some PPE? But we have militarized police in cities across this country with no problem having everything that they need, all the money. You know, we have our states and cities spend more than 30 to 60 percent on police, and we are cutting education, we are cutting healthcare. And so, it has always been in this country’s history, when you need great transformation, when evil is everywhere around, it is when those that are most impacted come together, band together and organize. I think we see this happening in big cities, and in small towns and rural areas.
Liz: I am getting reports with the Poor People’s Campaign, you know, of folks in Elmira, New York to Altoona, Pennsylvania to Decatur, Illinois, joining with thousands and thousands in LA and New York City, where I live, in Brooklyn, and just saying, “Enough is enough.” Like all of this death and all of this destruction, all of this poverty, I mean, how do you not expand healthcare in a pandemic? How do you fund the police in a moment of police violence? How do you talk about this question of looting, when who was gotten eighty percent of the federal bailout has been the rich and corporations? So, how do you respond to that? You organize, you organize, you organize. And you organize those whose backs are against the wall and all they can do with push. You know, I agree with you that a non-violent army of the poor is rising, Reverend Alexander. I think what we are seeing in the Poor People’s Campaign is people are organizing around, against police violence, against racist killings, against the rise of white supremacy, as people are organizing for healthcare, and for voting rights, and for education, is that people are ready for a new transformation and are trying to bring that into reality. And the question is, can we build up the power and the unity to be able to build that and to win? Not just one demand, not just one conviction, but economic rights, civil rights for all, everyone.
Lisa: Because the reality is there are more of us than there are of them, there are more poor people in the United States than there are of any other single group.
Liz: That is right. Before the pandemic hit, before these bailouts that have just made the rich richer and more people poor, there were 140 people who are poor and low income. And, you know, we now have close to 45 million people who have been able to apply for unemployment. People are saying that there is a 45 percent increase in homelessness, that 40 percent of families that were making $40,000 or less, have lost a job over the past couple of months. And what we are seeing is increased violence, both vigilante violence and policy violence, against poor people and especially Black people, brown people, native people. So, we are the numbers.
Lisa: And I know Adam, I know that Sojourners is working on some of that long-term game in terms of their voting. Look, nothing changes. Nothing changes, quite honestly, if Trump is the emperor, with no clothes after November, right? So, we have got to change the chessboard. We have got to change who is in, who is in. We have got to change the people who are actually empowered to be able to make these policy changes. So, tell us how we can make sure we are able to do that in November.
Adam: Yeah, absolutely. So, I am a proud member of the first Black fraternity and our motto is, “Voteless people is a hopeless people.” So, we do not vote, our hope is evaporated. We have a campaign. It is in partnership with the National African-American Clergy Network with Dr. Barbara Skinner and so many other Black church leaders called lawyers and colors. You can check it out lawyersandcolors.org. We are working all across the country to empower and equip Black churches with other allies to ensure that every voter who has made the image of God is able to exercise the right to vote. And we are pushing back against this concerted campaign of voter suppression taxes around the country. Now, the Covid crisis has made this even harder and even more risky. So, we have to ensure that states, and allow absentee voting, with no excuse, and winning victories in many states. There are still states, particularly in the South, Alabama being one of them, that are dragging their feet on enabling that to happen. We have to ensure that people can still vote in safe-voting locations, and that is particularly critical for rural areas, for native reservations, and other places. And we have got to ensure that early voting is expanded. And so, I’d love to work with anyone who is interested. We have to protect the right to vote, and we have to motivate people to vote. There has been kind of a long standing mantra in the Black community of souls to the polls and that is still relevant, but we may actually have to get to the polls and the mailbox, particularly if absentee ballot is the healthiest and safest way for a lot of us to vote, come November.
Lisa: Awesome. Thank you so much. Reverend Alexander, is there something that we can be doing through the NCC in this time? What initiative do you have? A way for people to engage that we can be working toward a new way of being together in the world around public safety.
Andrea: Well, we are constantly working. One of the first issues we jumped right on during the Covid crisis was immediately acknowledging that people who were incarcerated were at a very high risk. And so, we have been working on some decarceral projects. Getting people out under compassionate release, making sure that families have access to their family members by way of free phone calls, emails, text messages. Believe it or not, people have to pay for all those things. We have been on watch with many of our partners as to what is happening inside. There are some facilities where anywhere from 70 to 80 percent of the people inside have tested positive. That is an ongoing issue, and so all of the various legislations, primarily from the federal lens, but partner working where we could in within those state organizations. And we just continue to also work in partnership with our 38 communions and other organizations, such as Sojourners. One of the things I wanted to mention in this, this is about how we get things done, reminding our people that the census needs to be, they have to fill out their census form. It has been extended, in case they do not know, till October 31st. And as we know, if you are not counted, then you do not count. And so, I just want to make sure that that is a message that goes out.
Lisa: That is really good. And the census, you can do online, y’all. Look, if you have a smartphone, you can do the census.
Andrea: There are 200 people who then reached their 1000 people that Dr. Liz Theoharis said. They should be also making sure they do their census.
Lisa: That is really good. Friends, thank you so, so much for being a part of this conversation we had today. This was holy ground. This was holy ground. You helped us to dream today. And I also want to just say that the work that we have to do, every step we take, every click we make, every time we make a phone call, every time we go out and risk, we do holy risking. We are doing holy work. This is all work of faith.
Andrea: Lisa, I just wanted to say that I found out, you know, I have been on these things all day. I turned on the television very briefly. Los Angeles just shifted money from police departments to Black communities. People will look that up, because it can be done.
Lisa: Yes. That is right. That is exactly right. Yes, that is exactly right. So, thank you. Thank you for being a part of this conversation. Thank you to all of our guests. Thank you to everyone who came and watched. If you want more information, you should definitely follow all of the organizations that were listed here. There are a lot of them. So, Poor People’s Campaign, Sojourners, National Council of Churches, Ikar, the Ministry of Affirming Churches, Network Lobby, The Healing Communities, did I say Sojourners? Trinity UCC, and also Revolutionary Love, and the Voices Project. So, follow those organizations. They are organizations who are actually going to be helping people of faith to move into a more just world. It cannot happen until we dream it. And the first thing that a dictatorship does is it squashes your capacity to dream, so, it is time to fan the flames of our dreams again. Okay?
Liz: Thank you.
Andrea: Thank you.
Adam: God bless you.
Lisa: Thank you. And come over to Freedom Road, too.
The conversations leaders have on the road to justice. This is the Freedom Road Podcast.[background music plays]
Lisa: Thank you for joining us today. The Freedom Road podcast is recorded in Washington D.C., and actually wherever our guests are in the world in this Covid crisis. This episode was engineered and edited by David Delta of Sandburg Media. Freedom Road Podcast is produced by Freedom Road, LLC. We consult, coach, train, and design experiences that bring common understanding, common commitment, and lead to common action. You can find out more about our work at our website, freedomroad.us. Stay in the know by signing up for updates and we promised we really won’t, we will not fill your inbox. We invite you to listen again next month. New episodes drop around the first week of each month. Join the conversation on Freedom Road.[END]
Still not a radical enough vision for the revolutionary Jesus. De-criminalize *everything* then we can have a conversation.