Why Churches Are Important in the Public Safety Equation
The church is the most long-standing, positive and stable institution in any given community that has been plagued with violence. Families utilize the resources of the church for support and strength when trauma occurs, and for moral and spiritual guidance as they move forward from traumatic events. Church leaders understand the urban context and leaders can be found to represent the various ethnic cultures, helping to create bottom up solutions accepted by the community. This facilitates buy-in as the solutions and requested engagement in solving the problem is not coming from outside of the community. Churches generate a volunteer pool of individuals who will work for the cause long after media attention leaves, or when finances wane. Members will do the work because their motivation for success is tied to their belief structure. Also church collaborations add up to a reliable leadership block that will speak on behalf of the community. Because a leader’s participation will be based on a “calling”, the larger community of color will listen and give due consideration. Finally among the roots to violence in a community (social, economic, educational, even judicial), there are also moral and spiritual roots to be addressed. Towards that end, churches are best positioned to address the ethical issues raised at the street level. The inclusion of churches is an essential element in any comprehensive law enforcement strategy. Because no community can survive without law enforcement, it is therefore important for churches to partner with police, probation and court agencies as they develop their community outreach strategies. What we have done is use violence as a catalyst to create a collation, which not only reduces violence but improves police community relations, which changes the culture of a community, which has a lasting impact on public safety and health.
One Example: The Boston “Miracle” of the 1990s
On a rainy May evening in 1992, mourners were gathered at a Baptist church in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood for the funeral of a young gunshot victim. As the congregation prayed, the doors burst open, and hooded members of a local gang started shooting — turning the packed church into a violence zone. This horrific scene was the impetus for the creation of the Boston TenPoint Coalition. For the first time in the city’s history, Boston’s black clergy united to play a leading role in stopping youth violence, beginning a series of full-on collaborations with gang youth, gang-unit officers, court probation officers and the juvenile detention facilities. The gang members were treated as subject matter experts who had key insights on how to stop or at least reduce the violence. The direct service arm of TenPoint focused on the gangs responsible for the most violence; mediations ranged from individual interventions to negotiated settlements between gangs that are witnessed and enforced by neutral parties. The Intermediary organizational arm of TenPoint conducted trainings and built capacity for member churches so that church missions and ministries could focus on proven-risk youth and their families. The Advocacy arm of TenPoint worked with faith-based, community and law enforcement coalitions – both locally and statewide – to affect and change policy around public safety.
The core of the Boston TenPoint Coalition was a working partnership between community residents, Boston’s African American clergy and law enforcement. The Coalition also partnered with other city and state officials (such as the state’s Department of Youth Services), community nonprofits, and the private sector. During the 90s, Boston’s homicide rates plummeted — with the most dramatic reductions in the under-24 age group. For the 29 months ending in January 1998, there were zero teenaged homicide victims. Over 200 city groups visited the Boston model to study its methods. The “miracle” inspired the creation of organizations in other cities, among them Ceasefire Chicago, Ceasefire Los Angeles, Ceasefire New Jersey, and the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence in Rhode Island.
Although the black and Hispanic churches were the most actively involved, this approach is ecumenical and does not require a specific faith or creed. It can be embraced from a secular, humanitarian perspective to those traditions that value peacemaking and non-violence to those placing a high value on saving all human life, to those moved to help the least of those in society to those who feel called to work for social justice.