Week 8: The Landscape of Policing – City Hall, Political Change and Revolution
Supplies needed: pen, paper, access to audio and video capabilities
Supplies needed: pen, paper, access to audio and video capabilities
In this lesson, we discuss the role of policing in social movements, protests and the shaping of civic life. The modern police force has its roots in maintaining the social status quo. The emergence of a modern, bureaucratic police force came about in the 1870s when new social classes began to riot in response to terrible working conditions. Often police were called in by notoriously corrupt bosses and factory owners to quell unrest.
We often hear that police exist for our protection. The story is more complicated, as we learned watching the militarized response to the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. Today’s lesson will give you the chance to explore how policing monitors and thwarts social movement and protest.
Facilitator leads participants in the activity.
Take a pencil or pen and a notepad. Once you’re settled with your supplies, begin by taking three deep breaths. With each breath, allow yourself so settle deeper and deeper into your seat.
Now that you’ve settled into this space, take a moment and reflect on the following prompt. You’ll then have five minutes to write. Don’t filter yourself. Just write whatever comes to mind. If your mind goes blank, recenter by writing the prompt again and then following your mind. Only you will see and hear what you write.
Prompt: Freedom looks/feels/smells/tastes like…
After the five minutes of writing, facilitator invites people to share anything that came up for them.
Facilitator introduces the video by reading the prompt and playing the video clip.
Listen to the clip of Fred Hampton, who was the 21-year-old leader of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party when he was assassinated by police in a nighttime raid on his home. Content warning: includes images from Hampton’s assassination in the first minute of this excerpt. [Link]
Watch 35:00-39:23, Fred Hampton speaking.
After watching, hold silence for 60 seconds.
Invite one participant to read the Scripture aloud.
Matthew 5:1-11 (IBT, italicized added)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountainside, and after he sat down and the disciples had gathered around, Jesus began to teach them:
“Blessed are those who are poor in spirit:
the kindom of heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those who are mourning;
they will be consoled.
Blessed are those who are gentle:
they will inherit the land.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice:
they will have their fill.
Blessed are those who show mercy to others:
they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are those whose hearts are clean:
they will see God.
Blessed are those who work for peace:
they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted
because of their struggle for justice:
the kindom of heaven is theirs.”
Facilitator plays Ben’s teaching clip.
Jesus describes a kingdom/kindom in which the social order is inverted. Those who hunger, mourn, are gentle or poor in spirit, they will receive the kindom and see God.
This is said to a people who are living in a time of great wealth disparity and political subjugation by the Roman empire. They are literally hungry, poor and mourning. And they are the center of the kindom, not the political or religious elite. The social order of the God’s kindom is structured around the least of these.
These blessings are not the benign well-wishes that we might offer today. They are prophetic proclamations about the future society that Jesus believes God is ushering in. Jesus is drawing a stark contrast between the current imperial conditions of the time and the future conditions and promises of God’s rule.
Those who hunger, mourn and thirst are at the center of God’s kindom. This is the promise of the Gospel. As Anabaptists who are committed to following the teachings of Jesus, this must also be the promise centered in our communities. Not just the congregation, but the neighborhoods we live in. The places our children attend school and the places we work. We must center this promise of a just kindom in which the least of these are elevated everywhere we are.
Facilitator invites participants to the reflection questions.
Facilitator reads the following to introduce the following video clip.
The police have often been used to target political activists and disrupt labor and social movements. This video clip on COINTELPRO, or the Counter Intelligence Program, offers an introduction to this. [Link] (Length: 1:04)
After the video, hold silence for 60 seconds.
Facilitator plays the teaching clip from Ben Tapper.
The police have often been used to target political activists and disrupt labor and social movements. In the 1960s and 70s COINTELPRO was used to target social leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Documents were even uncovered showing that the FBI tried to get Dr. King to commit suicide through sexual extortion.
In 2010, the ACLU found hundreds of incidents of police spying on legal, political and protest activity in thirty-three states since 2001. Since 2001, there has been widespread surveillance of Muslim and Arab communities, most of which is illegal, and there have been several high-profile terrorist convictions that relied on entrapment.
Moreover, when police respond to protests, they often do so with the goal of controlling the event. If the guidelines aren’t followed, the police resort to violence against protestors and the media, all in the name of protecting businesses. However, it is possible the violent actions of police only encourage more violence and escalate the protests.
The actions of police, specifically those designed to target protesters, activists and local leaders, are designed to uphold the interests of those with power, i.e. white property owners or business owners. In the name of protecting property, the police fire tear gas at women and children. They shoot rubber bullets at people, some of whom aren’t engaging in any resistance. They even ignore other clear threats to public safety like right-wing militia groups that incite violence and have even killed people during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
As Anabaptist Christians, we cannot claim to seek a political order that subverts power and privilege (as exemplified in Matthew 5) yet continue to support the suppression of political movements by the police. To center those who are hungry, thirsty and seeking justice, means we must first protect them and create avenues for their voices to be heard and their needs met.
The facilitator invites the following questions.
View an additional video on how police track protestors with high-tech surveillance tools, “How Police Track Protesters With High-Tech Surveillance Tools.” [Link]