G-d, Faith, and Policing by Lou Cespedes
For years I’ve been making a simple argument to any clergy in our community that will listen; emulate the structures and institutions of the Orthodox Jewish community. Why? The answer is quite simple. Religion, or shared faith, is the cultural and empirical glue that allows people of the Jewish faith to exchange and interact in virtually every other segment of social or economic enterprise; faith, business, finance, education, social welfare, politics, activism and, yes, law enforcement. In all things they have a covenant with one another. These principles are canonized in the Pentateuch. If you haven’t yet, I suggest you read it.
I am not afraid to highlight these texts, but that is a long scholarly exercise and space wouldn’t suffice here, but I can illustrate through examples that are in plain sight. The NYPD has for many decades supported a group of volunteer police officers called Shomrim (meaning “watchers” in Hebrew). These unarmed volunteer units can be found in Chasidic communities all over Brooklyn. They were established by its founder, Lt. Jacob Kaminsky, on a simple principal; Conservative Jewish society requires policing with the cultural sensitivities only members of their faith could provide. In other words, they must need to police (oversee) themselves.
Pause for a moment and contemplate communities of color using this thesis. Would Muslims be allowed to police themselves? How about Sikh communities? Why not Black Protestant communities? These are questions the NYPD will never answer, because those communities are deemed suspect, especially after 911, and so the posture of religious affiliated groups in our community, like the popular Precinct Clergy Councils, operate from the position of “being policed” – not – “self-policing”.
Ergo the foundations of our cultural/religious project in the black community has been civil disobedience and integration, wholly consistent with Christ’s experience and the New Testament, but antithetical to the Jewish project of obedience, self-defense, and separation in the Old Testament. During this series, and in others I’ve written, you’ll notice that I often cite Scripture from the Old Testament. The book of Isaiah, one of my favorites, recounts the breakdown of Israel’s kingdom in sin, and G-d’s pronouncements of defeat at the hands of the Babylonians and Israel’s captivity. In the third section of the book of Isaiah it discusses the restoring of the people. In Protestant circles there is a verse that is very commonly used but seldom understood. It is a verse about enforcement, policing and criminal justice. Isaiah 54, v16 -17 reads:
“I have created the blacksmith that fans the coal into flames and fashions the weapons fit for its work, and I create the waster to wreak havoc; no weapon formed against thee shall prosper and you will refute every tongue that speaks against you. That is the heritage of the servants of the Lord…”
This is an unfulfilled mandate from G-d to the clergy in our community. Their failure to adhere to that mandate, like Israel of old, is the cause of our community’s own destruction. It may sound odd, but simply put; the criminal justice system, politicians, and the NYPD are dictating and setting the agenda for our religious leaders. Rather than being a force advocating for justice in our community, the 67th Precinct Clergy Council and its leader, Pastor Gil Monrose, who also leads the Borough Presidents Office of Faith Based and Clergy Initiatives, serve as tools for politicians and the NYPD. It has been reported that the 67th Precinct in E. Flatbush is the third most sued department in the city for false arrests. There have recently been two shootings by police of mentally ill black men in Brooklyn, Saheed Vassell in Crown heights, and one by the 67th Precinct, Dwayne Jeune, in Flatbush Gardens. Officers in both shootings were not charged. The 677th Precinct Clergy Council has done little more than pacify our community with religious morphine for our pain. Worse still, the Clergy Councils are providing religious cover in houses of worship to politicians like Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (an ex-cop) to promote what is arguably hate speech, faulting others for our own shortcomings.
We must hold the clergy and political leaders like AM Rodneyse Bichotte and Sen. Kevin Parker in E. Flatbush, partially responsible for our communal failure. They have made a covenant with our enemies – those in the NYPD, prosecutors, judges, politicians, and some in the Orthodox Jewish leadership who are the loudest voices against criminal justice reform. The Clergy Councils have not kept their covenant with us, or with G-d, to serve and defend our community from those that accuse us of anti-Semitism as a pretext to undermine Bail Reform. Leadership from our clergy requires recognition of G-d in our everyday communal enterprise toward “redeeming” our own community. Justice for us will not come at the hand of others, but only by our own advocacy, faith, and action. We lack that leadership in our clergy today, inevitably resulting in our collective captivity. (Isaiah 62 v.6-7) Twitter: @loufor45 Instagram: loucespedes