Police lives matter
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Friday, October 30, 2015, at 2:18 pm
Last weekend, the same weekend that hundreds gathered in New York City to protest against the police, The House of Hope—a large, predominantly African-American church in the Atlanta area led by Pastor E. Dewey Smith Jr.—chose to honor police officers from the community during its “Law Enforcement Appreciation Sunday.” Smith believes there has been a need to protest police brutality in recent years but also a need to “highlight the positive contributions made by police officers in our community.”
The first officer honored that Sunday was DeKalb County Sheriff Jeff Mann, who has served the community for 10 years. Mann called on members of the Domestic Violence Unit who were present in the audience—many of whom were church members—to stand as the audience applauded. Mann spoke of his commitment to working with and within the community, reminding the church that the primary issue in police-community tensions is a lack of communication and a lack of understanding. To help facilitate communication with the community, he has led his team in participating in more than 150 events at local churches and schools.
In addition to giving a medal of bravery to Mann, the church presented medals to Officer Kyle Johnson, who saved a drowning child, and Officer Chuma Chapman, who broke the window of a crashed car to rescue a teen, who he treated until EMS arrived and later visited in the hospital and at home. All three officers are African-American men.
In a touching display of love and compassion, the church took time to honor Elgin Daniel, a veteran officer of 26 years who was struck by a hit-and-run driver while helping a stranded motorist. Smith called Daniel’s wife Theresa and two children to the stage and presented them with flowers. Theresa reminded the church that police officers are human beings: “They are not only officers, but they are also family members, fathers, daughters, sons.” She pointed out that there are few police officers who do bad things but there are many more who do good.
The church also produced and shared a video titled “We Are Human 2.” The video highlights the need for trust in communities and the importance of seeing police officers as peacekeepers. It includes a moving apology for mistakes that bad cops have made and calls the church to remember that not all police officers are corrupt. The church needs to regularly recognize the good work of the many courageous officers of the peace.
If “black lives matter,” then so do the lives of men and women serving in law enforcement. Protesting the bad without celebrating the good does not advance the cause of justice. The House of Hope provides a model of what it means to mediate the priorities of virtue: Call out unrighteousness wherever it is found while honoring and giving glory to whatever is true, noble, admirable, and praiseworthy. In this way, the church remains countercultural in ways that surpasses mere political ideology.
Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.