From Rev. Frank Wulf
Dear friends and colleagues from the faith community:
As I write, people of conscience are being put on trial for taking part in peaceful acts of civil resistance to protest our nation’s epidemic of police killings of unarmed (largely black and brown) civilians. I am asking participants in the wider faith community to join me in contacting the relevant authorities in our places of life and work and worship to demand that the legal charges against these people of conscience be dropped.
My heart breaks each time I hear the tragic news of yet another person being killed by the police. When it later turns out that this victim of police violence was unarmed or was engaged in activities that came nowhere close to demanding the use of deadly force, my sorrow turns to outrage. And, when the powers that be whitewash the killing by refusing to investigate or prosecute it, by labeling it ‘justified,’ or by trying to cover it up, then my outrage turns to anger.
That was why I chose to join the Los Angeles protest sponsored by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network on April 14, 2015. Our Los Angeles action was part of a national strategy. People rose up in more than 30 cities around our nation to demand an end to police killings of unarmed, mostly black and brown civilians. We decried the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Andy Lopez, Tamir Rice, Ezell Ford, Charlie Keunang, and many hundreds more. And we made a powerful call for politicians and other public officials to stop treating these police killings with impunity. The time for accountability had long since passed!
As an ordained Christian pastor, I am painfully aware of the fact that the Jesus I follow was a victim of state violence. He was deemed to be expendable by the empire and its lackeys. So, they had no qualms about nailing him to a cross to die. Jesus wasn’t alone, thousands and thousands more suffered at the hands of a violent political apparatus that was out of control. As a Christian, I believe that God turned Jesus’ suffering and death to a beneficial purpose, but I will never accept the possibility that the crucifixion was good in and of itself. It was an abhorrent practice by which an oppressive government strove viciously to maintain control over a diverse populace.
All religious communities have similar stories to tell… stories of oppression and violence that are abhorrent in their own right and that must always be resisted in the strongest of terms. And yet, religious folk also have a tendency to believe that stories like these can be turned to a redemptive purpose. If nothing else, we can use them to inspire resistance. They can motivate us to stand up with determination and courage to say “No more!” to the evils that all too often confront and oppress our communities.
Something similar has happened when we have listened to the stories of those who have lost their lives to police violence. We have come to know the people who have been shot, tased, choked and beaten to death by police, and we have shared the grief of their families. These stories have motivated many of us, secular and religious alike, to take to the streets. Some have even engaged in acts of peaceful civil resistance, undergoing arrest and prosecution for their determination to ensure that these unjust killings never happen again. We believe that our resistance ensures that those who have been sacrificed to police violence will not have died in vain. It is our hope that resistance will grow until that day when we, as a society, finally decide that the unjust killings of unarmed civilians have got to stop and that those who commit these killings will no longer be condoned or protected.
In Los Angeles, fifteen of those who took part in the protests of January 14, 2015 were arrested in reaction to the blocking of an MTA train. Thirteen were subsequently charged with “trespassing on railroad property,” “refusing to comply with an order by police,” and “malicious obstruction of the free movement of people on a street or public place.” Three of these resistors have already been convicted and ten more face will be facing trial soon. Additionally, several members from Black Lives Matter were recently tried and convicted in a Los Angeles court for their participation in comparable but unrelated protests against police violence. And, similar legal actions have been taken against protestors in cities across this nation. All of these arrests, prosecutions and convictions seem to be part of a larger national effort designed to discourage people from engaging in protests that call attention to the epidemic of police killings in this country.
Is it right that the authorities pull out all of the stops when they are prosecuting people of conscience who are peacefully protesting killings by police, but treat the perpetrators of these killings with virtual impunity? Nationwide, over a thousand people are killed by police each year. Yet, since 2005, there have been fewer than 60 indictments and fewer than 25 convictions! In Los Angeles County alone, law enforcement officers have shot more than 1,300 people since 2000. Yet, not one of these shootings has ever resulted in a criminal prosecution.
It is not immoral to speak out against the epidemic of violence by police that currently grips our nation. Whether or not we agree with the particular methodology of protest chosen by a group of resistors, it is important for us to recognize that the peaceful struggle against police violence is a struggle for the heart and soul of the United States. After all, stopping a train is of far less consequence than the unjust and unnecessary deaths of our black and brown sisters and brothers. As a person of faith in general, and a follower of Jesus in particular, I feel compelled to speak out against a system that lets the perpetrators of violence go free while it punishes those who cry out for justice.
That is why I am urging you to join me in demanding that our public officials end their harassment and criminalization of all those who are peacefully struggling to stop the unjust use of violence by law enforcement officers. If you live in a community where protestors against police violence are being criminally prosecuted for engaging in nonviolent acts of civil resistance, I urge you to contact your local city or district attorney and demand that the charges be dropped.
If you live in Los Angeles, the person you should contact is City Attorney Mike Feuer. Let him know that you want the charges against the April 14 protestors to be dropped. He may be reached either by phone (213-978-8100) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
As people of faith, we cannot remain quiet. The time has come for us to put our faith to work and to say “No” to police killings of our unarmed black and brown sisters and brothers. Our religious traditions demand justice rather than apathy. The charges must be dropped and the killings of unarmed civilians must stop.
Rev. Frank Wulf