Community Conversation: "Policing and the Criminal Justice System"

Community Conversation: Policing and the Criminal Justice System

On Tuesday, November 14th, Reverend Gayle Fisher-Stewart, a retired Washington DC police officer and a partner representative of Calvary Episcopal Church DC, joined Samaritan Ministry at our bi-monthly Partner Council meeting for a community conversation on policing and the criminal justice system.

After twenty years of service in the Washington DC police department, Rev. Gayle retired in 1992 and was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church. To quote her mother, Gayle's journey took her, "from the devil to the Lord". She has taught at the University of the District of Columbia, University of Maryland College Park, University of Maryland PG County, and Johns Hopkins, and is currently serving as Assistant Pastor at Calvary Episcopal Church in Northeast DC.

Rev. Gayle discussed the difficulty of being an officer after the turbulent 1960s, when America's national garment was fraying, coupled with the challenges she experienced being an African-American woman in a profession dominated by men. She used photos to draw comparisons between police conduct during the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s with contemporary protest movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The discussion of the evening focused on the idea of the victimized Jesus and "the first incident of police excessive force", as described in John 18.22 (NRSV):

When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, "Is that how you answer the high priest?".  

Also discussed was the affect that participation in police culture has on a person, together with the idea that "police work on the system of domination". 

Each table then served as a small group for open and honest discussion around four questions: Who are the police? How have you interacted with them? Why were they created? What is their role in American History?

At one table two women, one African-American and the other white, spoke of their drastically different experiences and encounters with police as children: as a five-year-old, the African-American encounter had been one of terror and intimidation, while the white encounter had been one of rescue and salvation.

Overall, the Rev. Gayle informed us about police culture, history, and their role in society. She was well received by her audience and encouraged open and honest dialogue. These community conversations will continue and become a regular part of Samaritan Ministry: the next conversation, scheduled for January 2018 at Samaritan Ministry's Annual Partner Council Meeting, will focus on community organizing.

Community Conversation: Policing and the Criminal Justice System