Oakland Church Steps Out On Faith And Pledges To Stop Calling Police In California, members of First Congregational Church of Oakland says it's a reaction to white people using law enforcement as a first resort when interacting with people of color.
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Oakland Church Steps Out On Faith And Pledges To Stop Calling Police

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Oakland Church Steps Out On Faith And Pledges To Stop Calling Police

Oakland Church Steps Out On Faith And Pledges To Stop Calling Police

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Congregants of a church in Oakland, Calif., say they feel like too many people are too quick to call the police when they feel threatened by people of color. So now they're taking what they consider to be a moral stand - to not call the police. Sandhya Dirks from member station KQED explains.

SANDHYA DIRKS, BYLINE: Light streams from stained-glass windows into the large and airy chapel of the First Congregational Church of Oakland.

NICHOLA TORBETT: On a given Sunday, you know, 50 to 60 people in worship, so we don't nearly fill this space, but the spirit fills the space, for sure.

DIRKS: That's Nichola Torbett, a lay leader here. First Congo, as congregants call it, has no preacher. Members take turns at the pulpit. It's also a proudly and intentionally interracial church.

TORBETT: And then we have a Black Lives Matter altar.

DIRKS: The makeshift shrine on the side of the chapel is lined with pictures of black and brown people killed by police. Some names you've heard of, like Tamir Rice and Oscar Grant. Others you might not have, like Demouria Hogg.

TORBETT: We tried to find candid shots. And then folks, as you can see, have left notes and prayers.

DIRKS: Torbett says, as a white woman, she understands the impulse to call police for protection.

TORBETT: Because the world is kind of made and designed for white people. And so when I don't feel comfortable, I think, oh, my gosh, I'm not safe.

DIRKS: First Congo member Vanessa Riles says in her black neighborhood, it was police that made people feel unsafe.

VANESSA RILES: I haven't grown up feeling like the police are my heroes who are going to rescue me. I've grown up feeling like, oh, the police don't come when you call them or they don't really do anything or somebody calls them on you and your friends when you're not doing anything.

DIRKS: Part of the reason First Congo is doing this is that it has, in the past, called police on people when members have felt threatened. But Riles says they've re-examined those decisions and want to live out their theology, that Black Lives Matter is more than just a slogan.

RILES: Can we really feel like we're doing God's will or that we're following in the footsteps of our movement founder, Jesus, who literally risked himself over and over and over again for people who were the most vulnerable?

DIRKS: The church's decision hasn't made sense to everyone, and conservative media picked up on the story. Here's Fox News' Tucker Carlson.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT")

TUCKER CARLSON: The church in Oakland that we described in the intro is encouraging its members not to call police, even when they feel they need the police. I mean, if that's not a suicidal impulse, what is it?

DIRKS: After that segment aired, the church was bombarded on social media, accusing them of being anti-police. The congregation says that's not true. In fact, Barry Donelan, the head of the Oakland Police Officers' Association, says he respects the church's decision. He even wishes there was better education about when and when not to call police.

BARRY DONELAN: Most police officers face that on a regular basis, where there's some address they find themselves having to go to on a regular basis for issues that shouldn't be police matters. And yes, it's frustrating.

DIRKS: But Donelan says if something serious happens at the church...

DONELAN: If you ever need us, my members are going to be there to serve you.

DIRKS: First Congo is trying to build an alternative to calling the police, no matter how major the problem. Nichola Torbett says they're creating a team of trained community members who can respond when people feel threatened. She says calling police is really outsourcing violence to the state.

TORBETT: Which is exactly what the religious leaders did when Jesus was arrested. They said, we can't kill him, but you can; our law forbids it, but you can do it.

DIRKS: Torbett says not calling police is more than a political decision; it's a spiritual practice. For NPR News, I'm Sandhya Dirks in Oakland.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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