By Randi Ilyse Roth, Executive Director
Morning Star Baptist Church and Our Community Police
Interfaith Action is fortunate to be a partner in Community Power-Ups (CPUs), a program of Morning Star Baptist Church. Other partners include Sunrise Bank, Lutheran Social Services, and Twin Cities Mobile Jazz.
The topics for CPUs are chosen by the community. Past topics include: budgeting and debt management; landlord/tenant issues; and wills and estate issues. Future topics include: easy ways to improve your credit (July 13), and criminal expungement and domestic violence (August 17).
For June, the community chose this topic:
Building Strong, Positive Relationships between Our Community and Our Police.
Relationships between the community and the police are on everyone’s minds these days. We all know that these are difficult times, and that for many, trust has been torn asunder. Reverend Walker of Morning Star chose to engage this topic to “feel each other’s care.” Based on a religious vision of reconciliation, he talked about this being “such an important issue – how do we build community with the people who are there to protect us?” Reverend Walker set the tone by explaining that all questions and concerns are welcome as long as they are expressed respectfully.
On the evening of June 9, an inter-generational group of about 15 members of Morning Star gathered together with two veteran Saint Paul police officers. Twin Cities Mobile Jazz musicians Walter Chancellor Jr. and Brian Nielsen set the tone with great music. We had a hot meal together, and then got into conversation. When our two hours together ran out, the conversation just kept going. As trust built in the room, the conversation became more and more candid. Our topics included:
- What’s Happened to Church Members in Encounters with Police. Members told stories about being pulled over and about being treated in ways that scared them. One church member described a harrowing incident and said, “be gentle with me, I hurt easy.”
- Police Department Hiring and Training Practices: Why aren’t there more officers of color? Specifically, why aren’t there more African-American officers? And how are police officers trained to understand the biases that they may bring to the job, and to deepen their understanding to dismantle and transcend that bias?
- Engagement with Youth. Officers told stories of engaging deeply with youth in the community, and of working above and beyond the call of duty to help the youth get jobs and establish themselves soundly in the community.
- Impact of the Job on the Officers. Officers were candid about how the pressures of the job affected them, and how strong relationships with the community helped them to overcome stress and live in alignment with the best models of community police work.
- Family Responsibility. Members of the church talked about how strong community is built in part on family and church members taking real responsibility for youth development.
- Understanding of Incidents from Both Perspectives. We talked about several recent incidents in our community, and listened as community members and the police talked about the incidents from their perspectives. Give and take and dialogue brought us deep in this conversation.
- What’s Needed? Sometimes police are asked to do impossible jobs. They don’t have adequate resources to support appropriate responses to homeless youth, trafficking victims, issues involving mental health, responses to domestic violence calls. What resources should our community put in place to meet community needs?
One of the take-away statements at the end of the evening was, “we’re all human, we’re in this thing together.” None of us has a set of neatly packaged solutions. But Morning Star’s sponsorship of this brave dialogue opened candid channels of conversation and sparked new potential for relationships that can begin, bit by bit, to forge healing and a new configuration of community strength.
Randi Ilyse Roth