Dear NAIC leaders:
We have been moved and inspired by the uprising and organizing against police brutality that has become so much more visible since George Floyd’s death. This is a long struggle, going all the way back to the early American history of police as enforcers first of slavery, then of Jim Crow and other racist social norms. Organizing efforts have led to police reform, from professionalization of the police force to community policing. And yet, even in a place like Flagstaff, where community policing and community trust have been the focus of the department, we still see huge disparities in arrest rates of people of color: 52% of all FPD arrests in 2019 were Native Americans, despite their representing only 8.6% of the Flagstaff population. For our undocumented immigrant neighbors, there is the added fear that an arrest could lead to deportation.
NAIC has been at the forefront of implementing local police reforms. NAIC worked closely with FPD to create and implement the Citizens’ Liaison Committee to improve communication between the police and the community and to increase police accountability. NAIC has pressured FPD to hire more bilingual and bicultural officers and to help law enforcement understand the implications of SB1070 enforcement for immigrant families. We have worked with the Sheriff to improve translation and interpretation services in the county jail.
Nonetheless, we can do much, much better. As a result of our regressive state tax structure, we have defunded many of the institutions that police have been forced to replace. We must have affordable housing, accessible mental and physical health care, and an equitable education system. Our Sheriff continues to hold immigrant detainees for 48 hours to turn them over to ICE. Our justice system cannot continue to criminalize black, indigenous, and other people of color in our community.
Many of us are feeling motivated to engage on issues of policing and the social safety net in new ways. Some are envisioning new structures of community support of which police are only a small part. Others believe that our police forces can be held accountable with deep community participation. All of us are participants in flawed institutions (churches, schools, government), and it is our responsibility to work to improve those institutions or reimagine them in ways that speak to their mission and truly serve community needs
How can you get involved with work addressing issues of racial justice and policing with NAIC? Here are some ideas:
- Engage your congregation or other institution in discussion about your own experiences of racial injustice and/or the lived experiences of people of color in America today. What stories do you need to share or to hear? Would you like to work with other congregations to share these conversations? See the resources below for a place to start – and add to them.
- Join the NAIC immigration team to discuss our ongoing work with the Flagstaff Police Department and Coconino County Sheriff. Would you like to be part of a rapid response team to provide support for undocumented people who are arrested? Are you interested in meeting with law enforcement to discuss ideas for restructuring the city budget? Let us know if you would like to be part of this team.
- Begin important community conversations regarding restructuring police. Familiarizing ourselves with the police and city budgets and the funding of crisis and long-term social services could be a starting point. This is an opportunity to explore the experiences of other cities that have embarked on significant restructuring of public safety and social service provision.
- Work to secure funding for the social institutions that support our community, especially public schools. NAIC leaders worked to collect signatures for the Invest in Education ballot initiative and are ensuring that our neighbors are registered to vote in the November election. We have a role in the upcoming election to ask the hard questions and push harder for change. Join us!
Please respond to firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how you want to get involved.
- American Police, Throughline podcast June 4, 2020 (including interview with historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad)
- Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (TED talk: The Future of Race in America)
- Equal Justice Initiative, Reforming Policing in America
- The 1619 Project, New York Times Magazine podcast hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones
- Bryan Stevenson
- Stephen Danley, Camden Police Reboot Being Misused in the Debate over Police Reform
- The Laura Flanders Show, Putting Public Safety in Public Hands: The Newark Model
2019 Arrest rates: 35% Caucasian, 9% Hispanic, 52% Native American, 4% African American (2019 FPD Annual Report). By comparison, Flagstaff is 64% White and non-Hispanic, 19% Hispanic, 8.6% Native American, 2.3% African American, and 4.6% two or more races (U.S. Census).