A panel of police officers, policy makers and faith leaders gathered in Upper Gwinn on Wednesday, Oct. 25, for Seattle Pacific’s “Panel Discussion on Policing: Where Do We Go From Here?” which focused on the issues of police violence, racial profiling and solutions for communities and police departments.
“These conversations have to take place,” panelist and pastor of Christ the King Bible Fellowship in Federal Way, Washington, Andre’ Sims said.
The panel featured Chief Church Engagement Officer for Sojourners Lisa Sharon Harper, Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess and the Director of the Office of Professional Accountability for the Seattle Police Department Pierce Murphy. In addition, Sims and Chief of Police Andy Hwang spoke about the partnership that has been built between faith leaders and police officers in Federal Way.
During the discussion, the panel reflected on policing issues on a national and local focus.
The audience was shown a brief video from the PBS Frontline documentary “Policing the Police” that highlighted the discriminatory actions uncovered by the U.S. Department of Justice. Examples included unconstitutional stops and searches that the Newark, New Jersey, Police Department had taken against the city’s African American population.
Panelists also discussed what police need to do to reform current policing policies. One of the concerns expressed by Murphy was the “over-policing of minority populations.”
According to Burgess, police departments should have “more accountability” and also create an “adaption of 21st century policing.” For instance, the group stressed the importance of having police departments and community members working together to create a better climate.
“The safety of [a] community cannot be outsourced to [the] police department,” Murphy said.
He hopes to see that officers would be able to treat the areas and neighborhoods they patrolled like it was where they lived. Murphy also expressed the desire for officers and community to “all work together” and that officers would adopt an outlook that contrasted with the “occupying army” mentality that some police departments have.
“Violence happens because of high rates of inequity,” Harper said.
Sims and Hwang, both from Federal Way, Washington, also discussed the partnership that has been formed between police and the faith community after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
“What happens if we become Ferguson?” Sims asked, articulating the concerns of his congregation after the events in Ferguson occurred, adding that there was an “outcry for justice for law enforcement.”
Due to that concern, 24 pastors and other members from the faith community gathered in Federal Way for a prayer rally, where the group prayed for national police.
“[It was] great to have our community around law enforcement,” Sims said.
“We appreciate that partnership,” Hwang said. “There’s so much that rides on police … police can’t do it alone.”
In addition to acknowledging the history that includes antebellum slavery, Jim Crow laws and the “War on Drugs” which has led to the issues of racial tension and police violence that is seen today, the panel expressed that there is work that still needs to be done.
Harper spoke about the correlation between historical events, such as slavery and lynchings, and the way the U.S. views African Americans saying, “slavery treated black people as criminals because they were born.”
She added that progress “has to start with the reprogramming of our own minds,” in regards to the way people see and treat others.
Harper also discussed her belief that reparations should be made to those within the African American community.
“[This is a] biblical concept … of repair,” Harper said. “Repair costs something … do we want repair?”