a letter from a cop’s daughter

Our Lady of Flames by Carmelle Beaugelin, Visual Theologian

I was raised by the police. I rooted dramatically for the PD (Police Department) at the annual “Guns and Hoses” softball games. I always looked forward to the Christmas banquets. I loved getting to catch up with the officer on duty while I worked at the grocery store in high school, and dreaded running into one if I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. (But let’s be honest, I was so sure that Dad bugged my car that I *never* traveled off the reported course.) My dad became a police officer close to the time when I was born, and retired after twenty years of service. Growing up, I knew most of the officers by (last) name. They babysat when dad had to patrol the night shift, had us over for meals, and fellow PKs (police kids) were my first friends. In our small town, the police was my family’s first experience in what it meant to live in community.

These things are why I share the articles that I do. Because though there may be good people in the force, the system of policing is broken, and needs change. Yes, police put their lives on the line when they place the badge upon their chest, but black folks are forced into the same commitment to their communities simply due to the color of their skin. Just because there are good cops isn’t a good enough reason to keep a system that was designed specifically to imprison our black and brown neighbors. Good people can get caught up in broken systems. But that is not a reason to keep the system. “Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken” does not apply here. The system is broken at the cost of many lives (blue and black). We must demand better. And that’s why the streets have been crowded with signs and bodies. It’s not because of one instance, but rather because of thousands.

Did you know that even though the black population makes up 13% of the national population, 43% of incarcerated people are black?[1] Laws were created by racist white people in attempt to keep their control over black bodies, which causes policing to be the first step in a modern day enslavement. In my early twenties when the #BlackLivesMatter[2]movement began I was conflicted. I felt that I had so much to owe to my upbringing and my family legacy, (for many of my family members, the military was a way to achieve financial stability right out of high school) that it felt like a betrayal to speak against all of the “good ones” that I knew. But then I started listening and remembering.

For our hometown, I was taught that racism was something in the past, not in the present. Racism was violent and “microaggressions” (microaggressions are indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group) were something I didn’t learn about until college. I will not give examples, but thinking back on my time in my small East Texas town (similar to the other towns I have lived in around the country) racism was rampant. Racism is rampant because there is no common language to expose it, so it often exists in plain sight, unchecked. While in college studying social work, I learned about systems. About systems of abuse, injustice, and when Trayvon Martin was murdered, I began learning about systematic racism. It wasn’t until my second year of Seminary, however, that I really begin to hear the stories of my black classmates that I realized just how much more listening and learning I had to do.

Within the document, “Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis led to Black Lives Matter,” Justin Hansford contributed the essay Community Policing Reconsidered: From Ferguson to Baltimore. Within this essay, there was a particular point that caught my attention. Hansford explains that, “many historians trace modern American policing practices back to ‘slave patrols’ in the American South in the early 1700s. As opposed to enforcing the law against rapists or murderers, these patrols focused on the elimination of public disorder, which meant whipping and terrorizing slaves who congregated in groups, searching slave quarters, and interrogating any slave who traveled without a pass- all in an effort to create complete submissions through fear.”[3] “Elimination of public disorder.” Who gets to decide what “order” is, and what it means to disrupt it? Those in power. Those making the rules. In the 1700s it was the men with white skin, guns, and a badge. What does that have to do with today’s police officers? Hansford points out that modern policing has a militant nature. We call the police the “force,” not because they use their power as a way to empower underserved communities, but rather as a tool of “racial violence or mass incarceration.”[4] We’ve seen this occurring daily at protests across the country.

Are most police doing the best that they can? Sure. However, the Dallas PD received over 870 million dollars from the city in 2018 alone (almost a quarter of the entire budget)[5], and yet dozens of innocent people of color have been murdered. There is not enough money in the world to train out centuries of racism. It’s time to demand a new system. Why? In 2016 one thousand and ninety three people in the United States were murdered by police. 93 of those were in Texas.[6] I stand with Black Lives Matter because racism exists, and with police reform (or abolition) lives will be saved. So what is the #BlackLivesMatter movement asking for anyway? I have the following information from their website:

Enough is enough. We call for radical, sustainable solutions that affirms the prosperity of Black lives throughout America.

1. We demand acknowledgment and accountability for our pain and injustice

2. We demand divestment in the police force

3. We demand investment in the health and prosperity of our communities

We need to #DefundThePolice.

Before speaking more on this, I would like to share a parable made popular by community organizers Irving Zola and Saul Alinsky in the 1930s.

“A group of people are standing at a river bank and suddenly hear a baby crying. Shocked, they see an infant struggling in the water. One person immediately dives in to rescue the child. But right away another baby comes floating down the river, and then another! People continue to jump in to save the babies and then see that one person has started to walk away from the group still on shore. Accusingly they shout, “Where are you going? We need everyone available to help save these drowning babies!” The response: “I’m going upstream to stop whoever’s throwing babies into the river.”[7]

Reallocating public funds is a step towards changing the system that targets communities of color. In 2018 Dallas Police and Fire began working with Parkland hospital to have social workers respond to 911 calls regarding mental health crisis. Previous to this change, 5 police officers would have to report to this kind of call, and most people would be jailed and would lose the opportunity to receive the help they needed.[8] This program has seen great success, and calls for continued creative thinking. If we know that the presence of police raises tensions in already high stress situations, how might we change the way the city shows up? What if we spent our money on the other end of the river, where injustice is occurring, rather than the immediate needs? That’s what the movement is calling for. The current system is disproportionately throwing black and brown bodies into turbulent waters and they are drowning. It’s about investing in programs rather than the newest swat gear- leveraging privilege so that one day BIPOC (black-indigenous people of color) may have the same opportunities that I did growing up.

I will forever be thankful for the privileges that I was raised with, and for the police officers that I know. With that being said, with the building of relationships, with listening to the stories outside of my own context and experience, and with the way that I interpret scripture and my call from God, I must speak up. I must work towards a world in which people are not targeted due to the color of their skin. I must take a stand in favor of the oppressed. I must do my part in working towards the disbanding of unjust systems. One of those systems is the American policing system.

Black lives are lives worth fighting for.
Black lives are lives worth the protest.
Black lives are lives worth a hell of a lot more than our systems say they are.

To close, I would like to include a prayer written by Terry Stokes.
You can find more prayers on his Instagram page, @prayersfromterry

Text reads: “For divestment from police — O God of restorative justice, sovereign to dismantle entrenched sin, continue to expose the evil of policing in this country. Redirect our public funds away from police, prisons, and a corrupt judicial system, and towards community initiatives in healthcare, education, housing, employment, and other services which address the core of the inequity whence come crime and disorder. Show restoration to be more effective than punishment, and help us see people not as problems to manage but as image-bearers to invest in, per the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, who reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen”

If you’re interested in joining me in learning more about systematic racism and anti-racist work, have a few resources below.

Scaffolded Anti-Racist Resources
Anti-Racism Books for Children
Intentionally follow individuals of color on social media
Purchase your resources from black owned book stores rather than Amazon

The featured image, “Our Lady of Flames” was created by Visual Theologian, Carmelle Beaugelin.

[1] Hansford, Justin, “Community Policing Reconsidered: From Ferguson to Baltimore” In Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis led to Black Lives Matter, Ed by Jordan T. Camp and Christian Heatherton. 215–226. (London: Verso, 2016). 216

[2] https://blacklivesmatter.com

[3] Hansford, Justin, “Community Policing Reconsidered: From Ferguson to Baltimore”. 220

[4] Hansford, Justin, “Community Policing Reconsidered: From Ferguson to Baltimore”. 221

[5] https://dallascityhall.com/departments/budget/financialtransparency/AnnualBudget/1819-0-Adopted-Budget.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3c1NEKic7EzM20_Cvngq_KJpHG1ncHqg_MeRstmZQJzC0Yu75oXwJLIpE

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database

[7] https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2013/06/18/going-upstream-help-children

[8] https://www.dallasobserver.com/news/dallas-has-been-dispatching-social-workers-to-some-911-calls-its-working-11810019

Princeton Theological Seminary, MDiv/MACEF 2020 Aspiring advocate, learner, and United Methodist. she/her/hers