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Community, not cops: Some churches tell people to stop calling 911

Some churches are urging people to look to their communities for assistance rather than calling the police. (Image source: KOVR-TV video screenshot)

In response to numerous real and perceived abuses of minorities at the hands of police officers in recent years, some churches are calling for citizens to look to their own communities for help rather than calling 911, KOVR-TV reported.

The push to get citizens to stop calling police so often started in California, with church leaders in Oakland and San Jose leading the charge. Residents of Iowa City, Iowa, have taken on a similar initiative, according to KOVR.

"As a faith community that loves one another, we can't continue to support a system that continues to hurt our people," Nichola Torbett, a leader within First Congregational Church in Oakland, said.

What's the story?

The movement of "divesting" from reliance on policing has been organized by a group called Showing Up for Racial Justice, according to the Washington Post, and has gained some momentum in part due to incidents such as the black men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks and the fatal shooting of Stephon Clark by Sacramento police.

Three churches in California and one in Iowa City have officially joined, and some churches in Nevada are being recruited as well.

The purpose behind the movement is for people to stop calling the police as much as possible. Don't call the police when someone is having a mental health crisis or to report relatively minor crimes, because that could endanger someone's life, particularly if that person is a minority.

Participants believe that avoiding law enforcement engagement altogether is more effective than attempting to push for reform in the police system.

"Can this actually be reformed, when it was actually created for the unjust distribution of resources or to police black and brown bodies?" asked Torbett in an April interview with The Washington Post.

Problems with this approach?

Some churches want nothing to do with SURJ's radical approach to community relations with law enforcement, according to Anne Dunlap, a reverend and an outreach leader for the organization.

"I had some hard conversations with pastors and members," Dunlap told the Post. "These were progressive congregations that had participated in our work in the past — hung Black Lives Matter banners and had them vandalized. They said, 'We appreciate our relationship with the police. We don't want to put that at risk.'"

The movement hasn't picked up momentum in Sacramento, but some residents of that area are considering its merits. Sacramento County Sgt. Shaun Hampton would advise against that.

"We encourage folks to call us. We are here to help," Hampton told KOVR. "With the sheriff's department we believe in working together, building that relationship, bridging that gap, not just in the church but throughout our neighborhoods."

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