|The statement below is from PPF’s Executive Director, Emily Brewer, in September 2020. This deep focus continues through March 2021.
In late 2020, we held a book club with over 300 people on How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi and piloted a round of Action Circles with over 50 participants to bring the call to defund the police into our churches and communities. As of January 2021, we are piloting a round of Praxis Circles to learn about abolition, take steps in our communities and ourselves toward abolition, and reflect on our learning and action together. We are engaging in this work step by step with lots of reflection along the way and trying to follow the leadership of the people, primarily queer Black women, who have been doing this abolitionist work for decades.
Three months ago, we started to talk and grieve the murder of George Floyd, and we were also three months into a global pandemic. I was feeling isolated and overwhelmed and, quite frankly, pretty unsure whether we could ever create the kind of world where people are truly safe from violence. And then my partner and I, who are so careful about pandemic precautions, decided it was worth the risk to go and join one of the protests a few blocks from our home (this was before we really understood that being outdoors and masked was fairly safe). We felt we couldn’t not join in.
We obviously weren’t the only ones who felt that way. Since June 6, there have been daily protests across the United States, and polls estimate that more people have participated in these protests than in any others in US history. Let that sink in. We are living through a global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting Black and Brown people and at the same time we are also in the midst of the largest national uprisings against the violence of white supremacy. This is one of those moments that social change theorists call a “moment of the whirlwind” where change is more possible than ever. We are in the midst of a national uprising of astonishing power and urgency.
Going to those protests where I live in Brooklyn and seeing the daily protests around the country with millions of people participating reminds me that we don’t have the luxury not to hope right now. Hope is not optimism. Hope is a choice; hope is what keeps us going toward the vision that seems impossible.
Since the murder of George Floyd in May, PPF has been trying to listen deeply to the calls from Black organizers and organizations in Movement for Black Lives, and make active our commitments to antiracism. The call that we have heard most clearly, as has the nation as a whole, is to defund the police.
I am one of those people who first thought “no police? That’s impossible!” But this call is not new. It is just louder than it has ever been before. Or maybe those of us who are white are just now paying attention. I’m finding myself being called to listen to and trust the people–mostly Black, queer women, like Angela Davis, for one–who have been doign the work for decades of imagining and building a world that no longer relies on prisons or policing.
We are all being asked to envision and co-create the kind of future where police and policing are obsolete. Call it “Kingdom of God” or call it “defund the police,” the end is the same: safety means being able to live fully without fear of violence, within communities where everyone’s needs are met, where we are able to care for each other, and where we can hold each other accountable when we hurt one another.
|In response to this moment, the Activist Council of PPF committed in August to a “deep focus” for six months on this call to defund the police so that we can best listen and discern how we, as a majority and culturally white organization, are being called to respond in this moment with our energy, time, imagination, and financial resources. At the heart of this call to defund the police we hear the call to imagine and create the world as it should be, not as it is.
As part of this deep focus, we are inviting people to learn more about policing and anti-Black racism and build the skills together to do more than just have a conversation, but engage with our communities of faith to be a part of creating these new possibilities for real safety and liberation for all people. We have already launched a new book club and action circles for deeper learning about policing and faith-based organizing. In the next week or so we’ll be announcing some virtual opportunities to learn more about policing, how to engage this work in your context, and practicing this prophetic imagining together.
This six-month deep focus does not mean that work around the call to defund the police ends after six months, but that that we are committing to suspending “business as usual” for these six months. This is a new way of being for PPF. We are not abandoning the work that we have done for years around gun violence prevention, human rights accompaniment, Palestine, anti-militarism, and more, but we know this focus will impact the ways we do that work. We do not know how we may be changed by this time, but we are open to the possibilities that it will change us as an organization, and we trust that it will be change toward becoming more anti-racist.
PPF was founded over 75 years ago on a commitment to active nonviolence as the most faithful way to seek alternatives to war, militarism, and violence, and we know from experience that change never comes easily or quietly, even within ourselves. Change requires courage and imagination and trust that all of us together already have what we need to create the kind of world where racism and violence are no more. And as a majority-white organization, we know that dismantling white supremacy is our work to do. It may not happen in our lifetimes, but we have to hope and believe that it is possible. We are choosing to hope; we are choosing to act on that hope.
|During our deep focus on defunding the police, we’ll be sharing reflections, reading, and action items regularly via this e-newsletter, to provide as many opportunities as possible for people to join in and share learning and action together.
This week, we suggest one action item: research your own police department budget and local campaigns to defund the police. Here’s a resource to get started. If your city isn’t included – google! Tons of people have been sharing research about police budgets in the past few months. Are there organizations working to defund the police where you live?
More on PPF’s Deep Focus on Defunding the Police
- Why Pacifists Need to Join the Riot by Aric Clark (August 11, 2020)
- Defund the Police Reflection by Jennifer Soule-Hill (October 13, 2020)
- Bible Study: Abolition, Liberation, Elections, and Mark 10 conversation between Rev. Jess Cook and Rev. Emily Brewer (October 13, 2020)
- It’s Past Time for a New Way: Defund the Police Reflection by Ashley Bair (October 17, 2020)
- Abolitionist Advent website, a collaboration with More Light Presbyterians and Fellowship of Reconciliation (updated from December 2020 through January 2021)
- The History of Presbyterians and Abolition presentation by David Staniunas (January 13, 2021)