A ‘New Era’ of Policing?

Curtis May

Glendora, CA – Curtis May spoke in Glendora, California on February 4 about the Office of Reconciliation and Mediation (ORM)’s participation at a Reconciliation and Police Legitimacy Summit hosted by the United States Department of Justice. The conference was held in Washington, D.C. on January 10-11. The event was sponsored by the Director of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), former Pasadena police chief Bernard Melekian, a long-time friend of ORM.

Michelle Alexander

“In many American cities the community and the police are simply at odds, and that especially includes members of ethnic groups who seem to be on the receiving end of most of the police abuses,” Curtis May told the Glendora New Covenant Fellowship on February 4. “Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crow, claims that there are more blacks in the prison/parole/probation system today than there were slaves in pre-Civil War America.”

David Kennedy, Professor of Criminal Justice at New York’s John Jay College, reported to COPS that many ethnic groups “believe that the laws set up by the government are slanted against communities of color. Whether true or not this belief is acted upon and helps perpetuate our present conditions.” Chicago’s police superintendent Garry McCarthy adds that these facts need to be recognized and that “recognition is the first step to finding the cure.”

Some in law enforcement are now aware of what has slowly become a national scandal – the scandal of incarceration. COPS Director Melekian, with the help of ORM, the Western Justice Center, and other agencies, launched a community-oriented “Days of Dialogue” in Pasadena, CA back in 2005-6. This pioneering event helped bring together 30 gang members and about 40 police officers in a significant day of learning for all.

“Eighty percent of complaints about police misconduct are about perceived attitudes and misunderstandings,” Chief Melekian stated at that time. In Washington he bluntly told the assembled delegates that this crisis has become a matter of “restoring public trust” between the police and the community. Groups such as Operation Safe Cities in Chicago, Operation Cease Fire in Boston and individual community leaders from other parts of America attended the two-day event. Superintendent McCarthy commented that this rift between ethnic groups and the law “is rooted in the history of this country. The most visible form of government in most places is the police force.”

David Kennedy

There has been a movement from overt Jim Cow laws (separate drinking fountains, etc.) to constant harassment, according to David Kennedy, author of “Don’t Shoot!” He cites the case of one young black man named Timothy who was assigned 21 traffic charges in less than 1½ years. Timothy was eventually shot and killed for bolting from his car after yet another arrest. Kennedy mentions “new tools of intimidation” such as draconian drug laws with 15 year “mandatory minimums,” unrealistic penalties and the slow privatizing of the prison system which Atlantic magazine exposed as “the prison-industrial complex.” This is the shocking reality across 20 years where it has become financially profitable for communities to keep people locked up. Unbelieveable!

Representing ORM, Curtis May spoke to about 100 police officers, youth leaders, and pastors on January 10 about “the Dream of Jesus,” his message of concern for the poor, deliverance for the captives, setting at liberty the oppressed – worthy goals any society benefits from embracing (Luke 4:16-18). Himself a victim of police oppression, Pastor May spoke meaningfully about the scandal of almost 3 million blacks in prison, more prisoners than we have people attending graduate school. His words seemed to hit home.

Such leaders as the police chief of New Haven, CT, Captain Josh Ederheimer of the Metropolitan Washington Narcotics Investigative Unity and the inevitable David Kennedy are part of a “new breed” of law enforcement determined to turn things around. They see all sides of this tragic conflict. ”No officer leaves for duty in the morning and wants to be involved in an incident that will scar his reputation and cost his city millions of dollars in legal costs,” Bernard Melekian has stated. As Reconcile newsletter has opined for years, that attitude of empathy for all involved is the first necessary step in transforming inner city police work and thus keep justice rolling on like a river.

(Be sure to request a copy of Reconcile at atimetoreconcile.org.)