“We can no longer tolerate the trauma inflicted on our communities by policing,” Nichola Torbett, who is white, declared while standing on the front steps of the First Congregational Church of Oakland last month.
Torbett held photos of African Americans shot dead by police in front of churchgoers and promised the church would never call the cops again except in the most extreme circumstances like a shooting or stabbing.
Dozens of church members agreed to the same and to rely on their community to solve problems.
“How do police help? They often don’t,” Torbett said in an interview with Los Angeles Times.
“So, especially as white people, why call them?”
The members call it “divesting” from police.
First Congregational is part of a tiny but growing movement of more liberal churches around the nation making similar vows in the aftermath of videos showing white Americans dialing 911 on innocent people of color.
Videos showing calls on a black grad student sleeping in a Yale dormitory common room, a black family having a barbecue, a couple of black friends meeting at a Starbucks have these radical disciples taking a more radical approach.
“All I got to say is ‘Oakland, California’ and immediately you know we are talking about nutcases,” Kenn Daily, a Christian commentator on youtube, said in a response to First Congregational.
“Yeah, what kind of cult do these people belong to? How twisted could their thinking be?” Daily asks rhetorically.
But other houses of worship, including a Jewish synagogue and a Presbyterian church, are asking how they can join in on “divesting” from police as well.
“We’re taught to turn to police for so much ‒ even simple disagreements between people,” First Congregation church member Sarah Pritchard, who is also white, told the Times.
“Why can’t we resolve issues among ourselves?”
“We need to be there as a community for one another so we can provide safety for our congregation without police,” she said.
Oakland police phoned the church requesting to talk about its announcement.
So far, there is disagreement among the group how to respond or to even respond at all to the request.
“We are in conversation about getting into conversation with Oakland police,” Torbett said.
Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland police union, said he’s fine with the churches position and that Oakland police would direct their services at people who ask for them.
“If this particular group doesn’t want to call the police, that’s their position, that’s their view,” Donelan said in an interview.
“But my members are happy to respond to the tremendous need for police services elsewhere. If they take this view, it makes it so more police can be directed to those who ask for them.”