Week 7: The Landscape of Policing – Police and the Streets
Supplies needed: access to audio and video capabilities
Supplies needed: access to audio and video capabilities
Our society polices not only harm done to people or property, but also assigns criminality to behaviors deemed unsuitable. Homelessness is one such crime. People who are without housing are often targeted by police for breaking vagrancy or panhandling laws. Rather than looking for long-term solutions to ending the housing, poverty, addiction, and mental health crises that are the root of homelessness, cities and towns criminalize homelessness, leaving people without housing few options. Shifting our focus to systems and causes of homelessness, rather than criminalizing behavior, is one way the church can offer good news to our communities, as we replicate Jesus’ own attention to and care for the marginalized of his community.
The facilitator invites the participants to centering, reading the following aloud:
Begin by sitting or laying down in this space, whichever feels more comfortable. Take several intentional deep breaths and notice the rise and fall of your chest. Continue breathing, focusing on each inhale and exhale with intention.
Bring your awareness to the point of your body that is furthest from your head. What do you notice? What sensations or feelings are present? Pause for a few moments and just notice. Now move up your body to the next point. (e.g., If you started with your feet, move to your knees. If you started with your knees, move to your thigh and hips.) As you travel along your body, take note of where you feel tension, stiffness, warmth, etc.
Spend two minutes moving through your body. (The facilitator can guide the group through the rest of the body scan according to their judgement.)
Once you’ve reached the crown of your head, pause and bring your awareness to something you noticed – a feeling or sensation that came up for you. Next, take the largest breath you’ve taken all day and release whatever you noticed. Take two more breaths like that one, each larger than the previous.
Now allow your breath to return to its natural rhythm and repeat this mantra silently:
“I am safe in my skin. I am secure in my body.” Even if you don’t believe this, say it as though you’re setting an intention for yourself.
Once more: “I am safe in my skin. I am secure in my body.”
Slowly allow your attention to drift back to the room or space you’re in. Notice any sounds or smells. As you’re ready, open your eyes if they were closed.
In this video, Laverne shares a story related to police harassment of homeless people. Listen to her share about her experience of being subjected to policing as an unhoused person. [Link]
After listening, hold silence for 60 seconds.
The facilitator invites one person to read the Scripture aloud.
Matthew 9:10-13 (IBT)
Now it happened that, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and notorious “sinners” came to join Jesus and the disciples at dinner. The Pharisees saw this and complained to the disciples, saying, “What reason can the Teacher have for eating with tax collectors and sinners?”
Overhearing the remark, Jesus said, “People who are in good health don’t need a doctor; sick people do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire compassion, not sacrifices.’ I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.
A second person reads aloud this passage.
Luke 7:36-50 (NRSV)
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him — that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Facilitator plays the teaching clip and then leads the group in discussing the following questions.
In each narrative, Jesus interacts with people identified as “sinners.” People that are judged to be morally inferior to their more religious counterparts. Tax collectors were generally seen as traitors to their own people. They worked for the Roman government and collected taxes from the people. However, they are said to have done so corruptly, frequently charging much more than what was owed and thus enriching themselves in the process. To eat with a tax collector wasn’t just to dine with someone who had violated God’s law, but it was also to dine with someone who was harming his own people.
And in each narrative, Jesus responds to the incredulity of the religious elite by bringing attention to the needs of the people he’s dining with, and he centers compassion rather than upholding strict morality.
In each scenario, Jesus chooses to engage intimately with people who represent a lower social rung than he does. He accepts them. He holds space for them. He models Godly community with them. Jesus’ response is contrasted with the response of the Pharisees or religious elite.
As Anabaptists, we commit to an ethic of love (“What is an Anabaptist Christian,” pg. 3). This ethic requires us to abandon the morality policing of those who have lifestyles we don’t understand in favor of living out compassionate and humble hospitality. Moreover, this ethic of love is a rejection of violence. However, violence is being done in our communities to the homeless and those involved in sex work. Harassment, fines, arrests and physical harm come to these people as a result of our desire for supposedly “safer” or “cleaner” neighborhoods.
Answer the following questions together.
The facilitator plays the following video clip and invites discussion.
This 12:54 minute video, “What Happens When Cities Make Homelessness a Crime: Hiding The Homeless,” describes the costs of criminalizing homelessness. [Link]
Facilitator invites the class to evaluate the laws on homelessness in your community with these questions:
Additional resources and reading
Decriminalization of Homelessness
Decriminalization of Sex Work: