May 14, 2015

EDITORIAL: A Time For Justice

Rev. Jennifer Butler

As unrest swirled in the streets of Baltimore, with police firing tear gas and rioters burning stores and cars, courageous faith leaders marched down the streets to restore calm and mediate the situation. In the days that followed, churches provided safe space, spiritual care and food for young Balitmoreans. Pastors, rabbis and imams worked with civic leaders, youth organizers and gang members to begin the process of peace-building. It was cause for hope.

The question now is what will be done to alleviate the anguish, poverty, racism and injustice that plague this separate and unequal city.

A crucial and immediate first step is reforming the Baltimore Police Department to end its endemic brutality and hostility. Toward that end, a coalition of local and national faith leaders, as well as civil rights groups, called on the US Department of Justice to conduct a "pattern or practice" review of the BPD. Today the Justice Department announced that they will conduct this investigation. This is critical -- West Baltimore would not have erupted if Freddie Gray's killing were an isolated incident. We need a full accounting of how deeply the problem is rooted. Just as importantly, the investigation's findings must be acted upon.

Health, poverty, opportunity and police abuse are atrocious in many neighborhoods of Baltimore and other cities from coast to coast. The community-based efforts of faith leaders are essential to restoring peace and establishing justice, but public policy must play a role in solving the problems that plague so many communities nationwide.

Politicians striving to be "tough on crime" was a major driver of policies that led to mass incarceration, exacerbated police brutality, destabilized entire communities, and distracted us from addressing poverty and discrimination. That's why it's important to listen to what the presidential candidates say about the causes of the unrest. What we need is serious debate about criminal justice reform, not more tired scapegoating of the War on Poverty. Both parties share blame for the wrongheaded policies for the past, but we can't take it on faith that they will both offer effective solutions.

Here are some must-reads about these important subjects:

The solution to situations like Baltimore is somewhat spiritual

By Jonathan Merritt, Religion News Service

Baltimore's storied churches see a chance for revival amid unrest

By Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post

Q&A: From Ferguson to Baltimore, black America's faith is tested

By Adelle Banks, Religion News Service

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