From Victims to Change Agents: Transforming Our Relationship with the Police

Over the past nine months, my life has changed. Back in January, I showed up at the wrong time for Choir rehearsal at Zion Baptist, but showed up at the right time for God to guide my path toward what I now feel called to do. Entering church, I was greeted by Rev. Kirk Byron Jones, who was meeting with Rabbi Margie about ECCO’s emergent Beloved Community campaign for racial justice and had just told her she should contact me! Since then, community organizing for racial and economic justice has become my calling.

As a single mom of a young Black son whose father has spent time in prison, I know what it means to feel powerless in the face of a criminal justice system that often feels more interested in criminalizing my family than protecting us from crime. Just last month, a police officer pulled me over while I drove under the speed limit, to tell me he didn’t like the beads hanging from my rear view mirror. Obeying, I removed them, but felt a familiar anger and sadness that I had been targeted for the color of my skin. Yet before, I felt that this was only my problem, and my shame.

So often, facing the violence of the streets, it is easy to feel like a victim. On Monday, we weren’t victims. We were leaders, experts, and decision makers of our own future.

Through ECCO, I have realized that I am not alone in my experiences or my frustration. I have been able to come together with people from other congregations and my own to explore what we can do to transform relations between the police and minority communities in Lynn.

After months of researching and sharing stories, I was able to help ECCO lead a teach-in that allowed regular people to hear from experts like Professor Anne-Marie Hackstian of Salem State and Lieutenant Peter DiDomenica of the MA State Police about the problems we face and proven solutions tried elsewhere. And, we listened to the stories our congregations collected over the summer. Then, we got into small groups and voted on what our demand should be to Chief Coppinger at our big meeting on 9/21 – whether to focus on training, tracking, or hiring, knowing that we would be most successful if we worked on one goal at a time.

The groups overwhelming voted to pursue a campaign to work with the police to get training on implicit racial bias, as has been done effectively with the MA State police, as well as urban departments around the country. Lieutenant DiDomenica convinced us that this was a critical first step in changing the way that the police department thinks about racial bias, not as an active hatred, but as a unconscious but prejudiced set of survival reflexes that we can train ourselves to correct.

For me, perhaps what was most meaningful about Monday night was the way that regular people were empowered to choose our own solution. So often, facing the violence of the streets, it is easy to feel like a victim. On Monday, we weren’t victims. We were leaders, experts, and decision makers of our own future.

Now, we are working towards gathering a huge turnout at our meeting with Chief Coppinger on Monday, 9/21 at 7pm at Zion Baptist Church to make our ask of him and his department. I have learned over the past few months just how powerful we can all be, when we work together. I hope you will join us, and bring your friends, family, and fellow congregants to help us show our power. RSVP here, and click here for the event flyer.

Cherish Casey, ECCO Leader at Zion Baptist Church