Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Using Police as a Strategy


-When six police officers came to my church, handcuffed and seated ten people in the parking lot and threatened them verbally. Ten more officers came, with their lieutenant, who asked me, “Are you the pastor? Does your congregation want people like this here?” I pointed at all the people they had handcuffed and said, “They ARE my congregation.” The lieutenant turned to his officers and said, “We aren’t wanted here, let’s go” and they all released the folks and left. But not before the officer who started it all screamed at my face for “enabling these criminals.”

-The time an officer came to my church, harassing someone on my property. I calmly informed him that people who threaten others aren’t allowed on the property and he would have to stop or leave. He turned on me and said, “Sanctuary, what kind of a name is that”? I said, “It means a place that is safe for people to honor God.” “You mean safe from the authorities?” “Safe from anyone who threatens their well-being.” He huffed off.

-The time a group of officers came to move someone off of our property and they handcuffed and threatened the person in question. I told them not to threaten or harm him. An officer replied to me, “If you really want to help him, you’d send him to jail.” I replied, “Jail isn’t what he needs. He needs the freedom and opportunity to choose mercy and kindness. Jail takes away all choices, not allowing for any real change to happen.”

-An officer comes to our property during a winter shelter and asks if there are any problems. “No problems,” I say, “We work things out ourselves here.” “Well, if you need any help,” he says, “Be sure to call us. We are here to help you workers, not these people,” he points to houseless folk smoking beside the church.

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Some politicians think the solution to homelessness is more police, better police, even arrests.  However, poverty is never reduced by police work, no matter how good. The very nature of a police officer is the threat they carry to force one to do their will.  What homeless folks need, more than anything, is space to make their own positive decisions. They can’t make positive decisions unless they have the freedom to make decisions.  Jail, the justice system, police accusations, arrests take away decisions from those who have too few choices to begin with.

When you are looking for a group to be the frontline for solving a city’s homeless issues, the police is the last group to use.  There is no reason to take the group that accuse families and the struggling of being criminals and make them the face of the city to the homeless.  This approach only increases a person’s stay on the street.

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