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Cops, Clergy and State Violence: The GRPD recruits faith leaders for Clergy on Patrol program

July 28, 2021

Earlier this week, the Grand Rapids Police Department posted information about a new program they are rolling out called Clergy on Patrol or COP. 

According to the GRPD’s post:

The Grand Rapids Police Department is excited to launch a new partnership with area faith leaders, called Clergy on Patrol (COP).  The mission is to foster relationships between the police and faith based leaders to build bridges with the community.  Clergy members have already started to learn more about GRPD operations and procedures.

During the Grand Rapids Public Safety Committee Meeting on July 27th, Police Chief Payne said that there were already 11 clergy signed up for the GRPD’s 

Cops on Patrol program. Payne said he would like to triple that number. Grand Rapids City Commissioner Nathaniel Moody, who is also a pastor, responded by saying, “The clergy that I know, that’s going to participate, they wanna participate. They were excited to hear about it, and they were excited to get the information.”

For those who have been involved in monitoring and resisting US militarism abroad, the language that the GRPD is using to recruit faith leaders is the exact same kind of language that the US Army and CIA were using in manuals to train foreign soldiers in counterinsurgency. This may sound extreme to equate the GRPD’s recruitment of faith leaders to techniques that have been used in counterinsurgency, but to dismiss such a claim would be naive.

The GRPD sees the public, particularly members of the public who are opposing business as usual policies, as insurgents, as people who are a potential threat to order. In the Public Safety Committee meeting mentioned above, Chief Payne stated that he had reached out to the group Justice for Black Lives (JFBL) about getting a permit for their rally/march to City Hall. Chief Payne stated that groups like JFBL need to get permits if they want to do things in a lawful and orderly fashion. In other words, the GRPD wants to be notified, and therefore, have has much control as possible for when there is any demonstration, protest or act of resistance that challenges business as usual. 

This is why it is important for us to think about how dangerous it is for faith leaders to be part of the Clergy on Patrol program. We have to come to terms with what the bigger picture is for such programs, which are ultimately about inserting law enforcement – which is state violence – into neighborhoods and through community-based groups. In fact, the more they are inserted into our communities, into our schools, and places of worship, the result would be and increase in surveillance, the expansion of mass incarceration expands and increased justification for state violence. 

Now, one major objection to faith leaders working with the GRPD is on moral grounds. The argument usually is framed through a Christian lens and says, “Jesus was all about non-violence, forgiveness and mercy, so collaborating with the police would be contradictory.

Now I don’t necessarily disagree with such a response, but these are theological and biblical arguments which have been had since St. Augustine developed the Just War Theory. I am much more interested in looking at the distinction between the interpretation of faith teachings and the historical record of how faith communities have acted. In fact, if one were to take a close look at the history of Christianity and its support of State Violence, then one would see that it has not been an aberration, but the norm.

This is just a brief sampling of what we mean when we say that Christian Clergy have been intricately connected to State Violence over the centuries:

  • The Crusades
  • The Inquisition
  • The Witch Trials in Europe and in North America
  • Every example of European Colonization involved Christian Clergy and communities
  • The Genocide of Indigenous people in the so-called Americas.
  • Slavery of African people
  • Forced removal of Indigenous children into boarding schools – most of which were run by Christians.
  • The rape and murder of Indigenous Children at so-called boarding schools.
  • Christian support of and enforcement of Jim Crows laws.
  • Christians defending segregation and voter suppression.
  • Chaplins in the US Military.
  • Chaplins in Police Departments.
  • Chaplins in jails and prisons.
  • Christians in active support or complicity of US militarism for the past 150 years.
  • Christians in active support of complicity of White Supremacy for centuries.

Again, this is a very brief list of the ways in which Christian Clergy have participated in State Violence. However, there are no doubt people who will point out that their church did not participate in Colonialism, White Supremacy, US militarism or other forms of State Violence. My response would be the same response that Dr. King gave to Christian ministers (a message he wrote in a Letter from a Birmingham Jail) who told King that he and the Black Freedom Struggle were demanding too much:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

For those of you who are part of faith communities, I hope that you will actively resist collaborating with the GRPD. Doing so, would only solidify your complicity in State Violence. 

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