If Jesus is Lord, we need to defund the police.
The killings of Ta’Kaiyah Young and Eddie Irizarry show us that we need to find a new way. People of faith, with their prophetic hope in a God that doesn't submit to the world can lead the way.
In the last two weeks, I watched two different videos of police officers firing into a vehicle and killing individuals. Police shot and killed both Eddie Irizarry in Philadelphia and Ta’Kaiyah Young in Blendon Township in their cars. The videos are wretched, especially because they show brazen killings when an officer’s life is clearly not threatened. In Irizarry’s case, the video showed that the police covered up the killing by fabricating a story of being attacked. In the case of Young, Ohio police are defending their senseless behavior and trying to hide behind the law. A system that protects these officers and their departments is broken. These killings simply add more evidence that the way our society has tried to protect its communities has failed. The individual officers responsible for these killings are surrounded by a broken system that is fueled by systemic racism and classism. This problem is bigger than a few bad cops. Holding those officers to account is essential, but it has limited value if we don’t acknowledge the greater problem.
In the U.S., as well as in many other political economies, imagining a new way to keep our communities safe can feel nearly impossible. We seem to take it for granted that policing is the only way to do so. But if we care about the lives of Black and Brown people, we need to imagine something new. Police killings show us that the police force must be disarmed and defunded. When I said that, I mean we need to reallocate resources given to police departments to more effective solutions and consider whether how we police at all should be abolished and reimagined. In the meantime, policing should be equitable and impartial, which means that all communities should be protected, and no communities ignored. We have encountered a problem where BIPOC communities are both underserved and also over-targeted.
Since I am not trained in policymaking, I don't claim to have the answer, but as a pastor, I feel called to keep this issue front and center with my congregation. If Jesus is Lord, then we must prophetically act to change and transform systems of death, just as Jesus did.
Jesus resists the forgone conclusions of political systems and shows us that death does not have to have the final answer. People with faith have the hope for something new because we’ve experienced it. One could say that police reform is a kind of evangelism. Our faith emboldens us to imagine possibilities and to name the error of our current ways. It might seem politically prudent and practical to police our communities the way we know how, but even in the face of such pragmatism, we must remember that God calls us to a new way of being and living. We must imagine that another world is possible, outside of the political constraints that surround us.
If Jesus is truly Lord, if we submit to no God but God, then we need to resist the political entanglements that tempt us to maintain the status quo. God promises to protect Israel in the Old Testament, and yet, time and again, Israel relied on the amassing of political and material power to its own detriment. The same can be seen in Christianity. The New Testament covers only a brief time period, but we can see that after Christianity accrued worldly power, it lost its prophetic edge and has been trying to regain it ever since. Christians have become oppressors all over the world and across history, and the Gospel of peace and justice seems to be far from what Christians often demonstrate. God asks us to trust God, looking beyond even our most deeply held assumptions. Systems that seem impossible to change are often ones that most need our attention. It is a shame that, in the face of senseless violence proving the woeful inadequacy of our systems, we struggle to see that. My prayer and hope for today is that we can use the prophetic imagination God has given us to envision a world beyond violence.
In the face of such challenges, our job is not to be separatists or quietists, but rather, to engage politically but with a prophetic heart. Because we serve another God and King altogether, we can shine light on the fact that the worldly systems have failed us and so have the proposed solutions. We can name that racism and classism and stand in solidarity with the oppressed people who do the same. Rather than allying with the powers, we can ally with the helpless.
God sides with the oppressed and the downtrodden, and when their political systems fail them, God shows them another way. The same God who freed the Israelites and who liberates us from death, continues to act on behalf of victims of police brutality, giving them and their allies a prophetic hope for something new. When it seems impossible to change the world, when we witness another police killing and are caught in despair, I pray that we have the hope to resist and imagine something new. I pray we have the hope to keep saying we need to disarm and defund the police, not out of prejudice against law enforcement officers, but because we have faith that another way is possible. God has given us that hope, so we must allow that hope to fuel our resistance and revolution.