Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 10/01/21

Black & Blue. The discord between cops and the communities they serve that was exacerbated following the horrific killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last year and led to the Defund the Police movement may have been great for cable news ratings and others who gain political and financial power through civil unrest and division but for the country at large – most specifically those living in poor urban communities that rely heavily on thoughtful police protection – it’s been an unmitigated disaster.

Enter Reverend Markel Hutchins.  The bridge-building civil rights visionary behind the social-empowerment organization MovementForward, and the One Congregation One Precinct (OneCOP) initiative is also the driving force behind the National Faith & Blue Weekend which begins next Friday (10/8) and runs through Columbus Day (10/11). The event aims to utilize the unifying power of faith communities to help heal frayed relations between police officers and the black and brown they are called on to protect and serve. He brings a refreshingly balanced approach to the subject. My conversation with Reverend Hutchins follows the promotional video below.

JWK: So, tell me about the idea behind the National Faith & Blue Weekend.

Rev. Markel Hutchins: There has never been a movement for positive social change in America that was systematic and long lasting that did not anchor itself in the faith community. From the civil rights movement to every other movement for positive social change in American history, they’ve always been anchored in the faith community. There is a critical need in our country today for every faith-based organization – every church, every denomination, every mosque, every synagogue, every temple, every other faith-based organization – to be a beacon of hope and justice.

We’ve got to figure out a way to change the narrative (and) to shift the discussion when it comes to police-community engagement. There’s just been too many divisions, too much tension and, all the while, crime and violence is rising in our most vulnerable communities and officer-involved tragedies seemingly increase on a daily basis. We’ve got to figure out a pathway forward. The Household of God is an asset and a resource that we’ve got to tap into in this moment.

JWK: What will actually happen during the weekend and what do you hope it accomplishes?

MH: The National Faith & Blue Weekend has become the largest police-community collaboration project in American history. There’s nothing inherently religious about it but faith-based organizations constitute the largest body of volunteers of any kind in America. Churches, synagogues, mosques (and) temples host a mass gathering every single week in every neighborhood and in every community in our country. Those bodies of people, those good-willed folks in these faith-based organizations, should be ambassadors and liaisons between law enforcement and the community at large. We, as people of faith, are called to serve in moments of crisis.

I think what we see in America today (is that) murders and other violent crimes are up. Officer-involved tragedies continue to happen – like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many others. Law enforcement professionals, on the other hand, are leaving the profession in droves. Every major police department and sheriff’s office in the country is having a difficult time recruiting people. This has all translated to a decrease in public safety. We have got to get these faith-based organizations involved in discussions about actual solutions.

So, over the course of the National Faith & Blue Weekend, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, denominations, schools (and) other community organizations will partner with law enforcement to hold some sort of community-facing activity that bridges the gaps, that engages the community and law enforcement together to get to know one another better so that so that mutual biases are decreased in all directions – but also to engage the community in reducing crime and violence and officer-involved tragedies.

I have been involved in similar human rights advocacy the sum total of my adult life and most of my teenage years, as well. I’ve led protests and demonstrations around police misconduct from one side of this country to the other. I’ve come to the conclusion that marching and protesting alone is not the answer. We’ve got to figure out a way to raise the issues but to do so in a solution-focused way that actually draws communities and law enforcement closer. Most of the officer-involved tragedies that we’ve seen over the last several years have been as a result of fear – community members being afraid of the police and police being afraid of the people that they’re policing. When you have those mutual fears, that are undergirded by mutual bias, a tragedy is bound to happen. We have to decrease those fears (and) we have to decrease those biases if we’re going to see an end officer-involved tragedies.

So, over the course of that weekend, they’ll be activities ranging from peace and justice walks where law enforcement and communities walk together to conversations centered around decreasing violent crime and decreasing officer-involves (tragedies). They’ll be conversations or events focused on dealing with issues of race and institutional racism. They’ll be events that are supportive of law enforcement, that are honoring law enforcement professionals. Really, a diversity of activities that are designed to bridge gaps and to create a sense of collaboration between local communities and local law enforcement. That’s what this is all about.

We’re building a grassroots movement. There have been movements over the last several years that have divided law enforcement and communities. We’re building a grassroots people-based movement of every race, of every class, of every nationality and of every faith to bring law enforcement and communities closer together. That’s what Faith & Blue Weekend is all about.

JWK: What role do you feel the media may play in fanning the flames of police-community tensions – or do you feel they play a constructive role?

MH: For one thing, I think it’s not a fair assessment to paint all media with a broad brush. There certainly are extremists in media as there are extremists in nearly every industry. The most extreme media outlets certainly are doing nothing but driving a deeper divide and a deeper wedge between law enforcement and communities.

Media has always played a critical role in telling the story and being the voice of the American people and representing the (national) consciousness. What we are seeking to do is not to demonize one side or the other, including the media. It’s to give the American people something positive that we can pour into ourselves and into one another. We have to deal with these issues around policing. We have to deal with rising crime and violence. We have to deal with officer-involved tragedies. There certainly are needs for reform but we cannot do so if we’re reduced to demonizing one another and yelling and screaming at one another. I challenge all media outlets to focus not on the things that we disagree about but the things that the American people agree about.

One of the things that has kind of been disheartening to me in this moment (is) we have created the largest police-community outreach in American history and it’s far larger than any of these efforts that have divided law enforcement and communities – (but as you and I speak) we still have more than a week to go (and) there are events in every single state in the country – all over the United States of America, every single major city and (in) small communities of every kind – and there’s been no national media coverage on it which is really a shame because this is really the story of the American people. Gallup recently did a poll that found that more than 90% of white Americans (and) more than 79% of African-American and Hispanic people want the same or more law enforcement in their communities, not less. We are amplifying the voices of the majority of the American people and I challenge the media to come along that ride with us. We’re not nearly as divided as it seems on the local news and on the national cable networks.

JWK: Why do you think you’re having so much trouble getting media coverage?

MH: Because it’s not salacious. It’s not divisive. The approach that we’re taking is more in line with the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. Our objective is not to defeat our adversaries to but transform our adversaries into allies and that’s not the story that the media wants to tell, unfortunately. It’s not salacious. It’s not divisive. It’s not yelling and screaming at each other – but that’s not where the majority of the American people are. It’s a difference in what Dr. King called “the vocal minority versus the silent majority.” We’re raising the voice of the silent majority. Unfortunately, perhaps that’s not as nasty and divisive as some of the other efforts that seem to get so much play in the media.

JWK: What do you think of the Defund the Police movement?

MH: Really, it’s not a movement because the fact of the matter is the majority of American people do not support defunding the police. As an African-American civil rights leader, frankly, I’m much more moderate and liberal than I am anything else (and) it really is an offense to me because to defund the police means that you’re not concerned about the crime and violence which is the far greater concern to people in communities of color. It’s really a bastardization of social change to discuss the idea (and) using the inflammatory language of “defunding the police.”

Certainly, we have to look at reallocating resources away from just incarceration and focus more on mental health and wellness and providing opportunities for young people that would drive them away from a life of crime…but to utilize inflammatory language like “defund the police” I believe is intentional. It’s divisive and it’s harmful to the very communities that we all seek to uplift.

JWK: What can the police do to foster better relationships in the urban communities they serve?

MH: Get to know the communities. There was a time in American history when law enforcement professionals got out of their cars. They knew the people that were in the communities that they served – but (then came) the advent of technology. Our “smart” technology has made (for) dumb consciousness. Our consciousness has been dumbed down by our use of technology. We’ve got to create a movement in this country that causes law enforcement to get to know the people that they’re policing so that their own unconscious and implicit biases are decreased.

The number-one challenge for law enforcement in this country today is (that) too many young police officers don’t know the people that they’re policing. They don’t know the culture. They don’t know the language. They’ve not gotten to chance to know the people on a human level such that the people are humanized in the consciousness of these law enforcement professionals – and, vice versa, the law enforcement professionals are humanized for the people that live in the communities that they police.

I’ll give you one prime example. What killed George Floyd was not flawed policy and procedure. The officer that killed George Floyd violated policy and procedure. The problem was the officer did not see the humanity in George Floyd. He did not instinctively see and feel and acknowledge the personhood of Mr. Floyd. That’s what caused him to kill George Floyd. So, this idea that we can somehow train away that level of bias or that lack of humanity in the academy is flawed.

What we have to do and what – and what we’re doing with Faith & Blue Weekend – is (to give) every law enforcement professional in this county the chance to train and transform their heart and their consciousness above just their skill sets. We have the best trained law enforcement in America of any society – or any period in American history. The problem is not a lack of training alone. It’s what’s in a person’s heart. We gotta transform the hearts and the minds (as well as) just changes in policies and procedures. That is why National Faith & Blue Weekend is so important. These faith-based communities are accustomed to transforming hearts. They’re accustomed to changing minds. That’s what we need faith-based organizations in this country to do – focus on the transformation and not just the reform.

JWK: I guess there also needs to be some sifting regarding the type of person who even gets into the police academies.

MH: Absolutely. That’s why one of the things that we’re doing with National Faith & Blue Weekend is we’re creating a cadre of community leaders, respected community voices, that have the capacity and the relationality to hold law enforcement accountable. So, from a civil rights perspective, one of my aspirations with National Faith & Blue Weekend is to cause these faith-based organizations – and especially the faith leaders, the pastors, the priests, the rabbis, the imams – to come into relationship with the police chiefs and the sheriffs and the other law enforcement leaders so that there’s a degree of mutual accountability there. That is what is so important.

There’s a need for reform. We have to look at how we train our law enforcement professionals. We need to shift more from this warrior style of training to a guardian mindset and mentality. We need to focus on standardization with regard to use of force, how law enforcement officers are trained, how they are identified (and) how they are recruited. All of these things are necessary but they have to happen at the local community level because the individual dynamics, demographics and other challenges that face the local community should guide the changes in policing in that community…We can have all the discussion we want about national policy (but) the best conversations are going to happen – and the best changes are going to happen – in local communities and in local neighborhoods. That why we want Faith & Blue Weekend activities in every community and in every corner of this country.

JWK: On the other side of the equation, what should the communities understand about the POV of cops as they enter into sometimes tense situations? Particularly, do you think schools can play a greater role in helping young people better understand the apprehension and fear cops experience as they try to do their jobs.

MH: I absolutely think so…This mindset – that we’ve seen most especially in our politics has spilled over into activism – that in order for us to be right someone else has to be wrong has got to be eradicated. We have to eliminate, really exterminate, this idea that somehow, in order for us to be uplifted and our perspectives to be heard, we have to demonize and dismiss someone else’s perspective.

Law enforcement professionals, by and large, go to work every single day to do a good job for the community. No law enforcement professional that puts on a gun, a uniform and a badge leaves home in the morning to say “I’m going to go make a huge mistake.” That’s not why most of these folks get in the profession. 99% of all law enforcement professionals are great human beings and they go to work for the right reason. It doesn’t mean that they don’t make mistakes. It doesn’t mean that there are not changes that are needed or improvements that are needed – but most do a good job for the American people every single day.

Absolutely, the schools, the faith-based organizations, the media, the radio stations, the artists and entertainers, have to do a better job of trying to understand the perspectives of the law enforcement professionals that police in their communities. A part of the reason that we are able to do what we are doing now is because I’ve been at the forefront of civil and human rights. I’ve put corrupt officers behind bars with my advocacy. I understand the one side but I also understand the law enforcement perspective. I understand that some of what we think we see in these social media clips on YouTube and on Instagram is inaccurate because we’re operating as civilians from a different mindset and mentality and a different perspective than these law enforcement professionals who are making split-second decisions.

I think what I’m saying, Mr. Kennedy, is we have to find a way to talk to each other and not at each other – and that’s what we’ve been seeing for the last several years. There’s been too much yelling and screaming. As long as we have some Americans in one corner yelling “Our lives matter!” (and) a different group of Americans in a different corner yelling “Our lives matter!” there’s very little good that we can achieve – but there really is no limit to the good that we can achieve if we have the courage and capacity to sit together and reason together. That’s what Faith & Blue Weekend gives us an opportunity to do in every state in this country.

JWK: It seems to me that it might be a good idea to have a high school course – almost like driver’s ed – to put kids through police training. You know, let them experience for themselves – in a virtual way – what it’s like to have to make the sort of split-second decisions cops are called on the make – how if you’re too quick to shoot you could kill an innocent person but if you hesitate, even for a second, you could be killed. If kids went through that it might help them not just understand the cop’s viewpoint but also, if they’re ever in that situation, to avoid the sort of movements that could result in a lethal police action. I think it could both promote understanding and save lives. I’m wondering what your thought on that is.

MH: I think it’s a wonderful idea. In fact, we are creating a training video with that very purpose. It’s actually in production now and will be finished by the end of November. It is specifically for that purpose – to educate young people. It’s called Dos and Don’ts – the dos about what you should do if you’re stopped by a law enforcement professional and the don’ts about what you shouldn’t do when you encounter a law enforcement professional.

But I go back to this. There are more houses of worship than there are schools. Every church, every synagogue, every temple, every mosque, every denomination (should) have that sort of training – to reach out to the community, to go out into the highway and byways and get the young people and bring them in and show them exactly what you’re talking about.

Again, the whole purpose for our faith-based organizations is to reach the community. The faith-based organizations are intended by design to be assets of the community (and) to serve this present age. (It’s) our calling to fulfill. So, rather than just making this a responsibility of the school, it is the church, it’s the synagogue, it’s the mosque, it’s the temple that should be holding those conversations (and) bringing in a police officer, bringing in young people from off the street and saying to them “Here’s what you need to know when you encounter a law enforcement professional.” I think it’s a great concept.

JWK: So, how can people participate in Faith & Blue Weekend?

MH: There’s still time. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors – FirstNet/AT&T and the Motorola Solutions Foundation – there is no cost to any faith-based organization, school or community group to participate. There is no cost to the law enforcement agency. We’re not selling anything. We just want to facilitate a movement in this country.

Anybody can go to faithandblue.org and sign up to host an event or find an event near them that they can participate in. We’ve developed a tool kit. We’ve developed every resource that is necessary. Some of the activities can be planned within a matter of a couple of hours and all of them can be planned within a matter of a week…Every resource is there. All they have to do is visit faithandblue.org (and) click on the resources and everything that is needed to participate is right there. I’ve got a whole team of people working in the national office. If folks reach out to use through the website, we’ll respond and help them to set up an event or help them to find an event.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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