Wow: Members of Majority-White Churches Commit to Never Calling the Police On Black People Again

First Congregational Church in Oakland. (Josh Edelson / For The Times)
First Congregational Church in Oakland. (Josh Edelson / For The Times)

Standing on the front steps of First Congregational Church of Oakland late last month, Nichola Torbett issued a declaration.

“We can no longer tolerate the trauma inflicted on our communities by policing,” Torbett, a white church volunteer, said in front of churchgoers who held photos of African Americans shot dead by law enforcement. The church, she promised, would never call the cops again in nearly every circumstance. Dozens of members had agreed to do the same.

“How do police help? They often don’t,” Torbett later said in an interview. “So, especially as white people, why call them?”

As videos of the aftermath of white Americans dialing 911 on African Americans for taking part in innocent activities have repeatedly gone viral — two black friends meeting at a Starbucks, a black grad student napping in a Yale dormitory common room, a black family having a barbecue just blocks from the Oakland congregation — members of this small church are taking extreme measures in response.

They call it “divesting” from police. The church is part of a tiny but growing movement among liberal houses of worship around the nation making similar vows. They include another church in Oakland, one in San Jose and one in Iowa City, Iowa. It’s mostly white ministers and majority white congregations leading the efforts, which come as debates over racism, stereotypes and the role of law enforcement hit universities, businesses and neighborhood councils across the U.S.

At Colorado State University, administrators are grappling with an incident last month in which a white parent called police on two Native American students touring the campus. The woman told a 911 operator that the teens, who joined the tour late, were acting “really odd” and wore dark clothes with “weird symbolism.”

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The Los Angeles Times