Peace on the Hill: The debate over “Blue lives matter” and “Black lives matter”

headshotBy Joshua Russell

The past 18 months have seen an unprecedented debate in the United States over the police and the use of force. The killing of unarmed African-Americans by police has thrust the racial tensions that many white people were unaware of or ignored into the national spotlight.

Tremendous damage has been done in African-American, Latino, and Native American communities by police forces. These communities are targeted at a much higher rate than white communities and are subjected to the use of force much more frequently. Police in the United States in general use lethal force far more than in other industrialized countries.

Why is this the case? Some argue that the U.S. has more violent crime than other countries, and that harsh policing in the areas where crime exists is necessary. But China, a country with an overall population more than four times that of the U.S. and a similar number of homicides, saw only fourteen deaths caused by police in 2014. In that same year nearly 1,100 people were killed by police in the U.S.

Policing without the use of lethal force is common across Europe and Canada, as well as other parts of the globe. What is preventing the U.S. from implementing such policing?

Police reform in this country faces many obstacles, including many people who refuse to acknowledge the disproportionate use of lethal force based on race.  In addition, the federal government supplies local police with military-grade weapons. The Pentagon’s 1033 program has sent $5 billion worth of surplus military equipment to local police departments since 1990. Such equipment includes items that greatly enhance the use of force such as grenade launchers, mine-resistant vehicles, and assault rifles. President Obama placed temporary limits on the program last year, but these limits can easily be removed with a new president and are not enough to de-militarize our police.

As Anabaptists, what can we do? We can advocate for laws that do not conflate police with the military, such as the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act. We can educate our elected officials and communities about the dangers of a police force that focuses too much on force and targets communities of color. We can look for ways to positively engage with police, even though their work may seem at odds with Anabaptist values at times. We can recognize that there are many police officers who want to keep communities safe without putting others at risk.

Reforming our police forces will take time and involve advocacy at a number of levels. It is not impossible to have a police force that treats all people fairly, without a default to the use of force, and maintains public safety.

Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.

Joshua Russell is Legislative Assistant and Communications Coordinator for MCC’s Washington Office

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3 responses to “Peace on the Hill: The debate over “Blue lives matter” and “Black lives matter”

  1. Pingback: The debate over “Blue lives matter” and “Black lives matter” | MCC Washington Memo·

  2. M. Russell, your quotation of the 1033 article is incomplete. You state
    “The Pentagon’s 1033 program has sent $5 billion worth of surplus military equipment to local police departments since 1990. Such equipment includes items that greatly enhance the use of force such as grenade launchers, mine-resistant vehicles, and assault rifles.”
    But the source article clearly says
    “The program has doled out $5 billion in equipment since 1990. Most of it was general office and maintenance equipment – shovels, copiers, computers”
    It would have been very simple for you to copy the amount related to tactical military eqt only rather than including shovels, copiers and computers in your total. Your source article clearly shows the difference. But that would have been a much smaller number, right?
    This is an example of what we are increasingly seeing in faith-based advocacy – the famous LITTLE WHITE LIE. While your information is technically correct, you deliberately manipulated the presentation to make the situation appear worse than it actually is.
    This is so common when faith and politics intersect – and we choose the tools of politics over our history of integrity. When faced with these lapses of truth, I always have to ask, “If things are as bad as they say, why do they have to lie about it to drum up support?”

  3. Joshua, I enjoyed reading the supporting articles you linked to. Lots of good information there. But I can’t help but wonder if your fellow MCCers checked them out. Look at this:

    “According to new FBI statistics released this week, violent crime rates in the US fell over 4% in the past year alone, bringing the amount of violent crimes lower than it has been in nearly 40 years. The statistics showed that there were an estimated 1.16 million violent crimes in the year of 2013, which is the lowest number since 1978, when 1.09 million were recorded.
    Broken down, the report revealed that manslaughter dropped by 4.4% to 14,196, the lowest rate since 1968, while instances of rape were down 6.3%. Despite the tough economic times, robbery is also down by 2.8% and property crimes were down by 4.1%.”

    That’s not from an MCC worship guide (certainly!), not from the FUtPG group (never!), not from the Ecumenical Advocacy Days, not from a letter MCC sent to congress (he** no). That’s from an article quoted by Joshua Russell. Fascinating. You are the first MCC staffer to ever admit and/or provide any information indicating how much crime has dropped. Congratulations on refusing to feed the monster of fear!

    Did you know that MCC claims, at least 10 times, that gun violence is epidemic in the US? Your data confirms that crime is approaching the lowest level in 40 years. (crime involving firearms remains a fairly consistent proportion of all crime). You’re in for some serious ribbing at the next MCC Staff Peace Retreat.

    I just hope you don’t get caned. canned. okay, maybe caned and then canned. Good luck!

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