THE BLOG
12/08/2014 02:41 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2015

Pastoral Letter to my Electeds: We Can't Breathe

I write with a heavy but hopeful heart. I know we can't close our eyes and pretend the video of Eric Garner's death will go away. I need to talk to you. I need to listen to you. I need to connect with you, now as a movement for justice and the policing of the police in our great city begins. We all need to ask what happened to the great state of New York -- and join with you in making it great again. A movement is beginning, and you know it and we know it.

Movements begin with the stories that are untold. The outpourings in New York City streets these last few days are stories on people's hearts aching to be told. Our people are dying of what Rabbi Arthur Waskow calls 'Domination disease."

We can't breathe. It is not just Eric Garner who can't breathe. We are all in a choke-hold. When an executive vice president of a major New York Seminary, John Vaughn, has to write in the Huffington Post (December 3) that he is afraid for his African-American son, joining the mayor of New York City and the President of the United States in similar fears, something is radically wrong. Our people are not safe. They are not safe because of domination disease, pretending to offer security but offering nothing but mistrust and increasing insecurity, the germinating potting soil for fear and despair.

What will cure us of the Domination Disease?

Technical solutions, like cameras on police helmets -- are a disproportionate moral answer to the crisis. There is much greater moral injury than what a quick fix can manage. There is no quick fix here -- not even if the two grand juries of this past month had "scapegoated" both police officers. It is not just two stories. It is thousands of stories, untold, and now being heard.

Let us first name the crisis: the police are not being policed. They appear to be above the law. Even grand juries seem incapable of holding the police accountable. Of course it would help if grand juries could be grand. But the problem is much deeper and more pervasive than their prowess.

The lack of accountability between security officers and people's real security is first of all a moral crisis. Faith in democratic systems is rapidly breaking down. It is secondly a spiritual crisis. People are heartbroken and deep in despair, thus their clumsy but effective walks out of the doors onto their streets. These leaderless actions are an ache and a groan of the human spirit. By them, we may yet make something good out of the horror of these last weeks. Doesn't Romans 8:28 say that "all things work together for good to those who love God?" We are struggling to believe that promise is true.

The lack of accountability with the police is not just a moral and spiritual problem. It is also a theological affront, as though God was small and human force and violence, used by the some against the many, were larger than the divine. Might and force are in deep conflict with the scriptures' multiple commands to love each other and to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. We believe: "Not by might or power...but by the Spirit of the Living God." (Zechariah 4:6) God is not impressed with guns and chokeholds, nor bombs and fists.

Our many scriptures attest to the non-violent power of God and how much larger it is than human abuses of power. The theological issue is the abuse of power, the lack of righteousness, or right relationship. We urge you to see the size of the crisis and to join us in healing our broken hearts.

You are our elected representatives. We care about what you are going through now, with multiple constituencies and diverse points of view pounding down your doors. We urge you to look higher and deeper at what really matters -- and how crucial it is to us all that we have peace in our hearts and in our streets. That peace is now obstructed by the abuse of police power -- and the people know it.

What will it take to police the police, when a video showing a police officer choking a Black man -- using the choke-hold "forbidden" by his own police force, while he, and we, can hear the man gasping, "I can't breathe?" What will it take to get sufficient evidence to go to trial? What will it take to bring a district attorney and a grand jury to think "probable cause"? Is there any law that actually polices the police? We join you in not wanting cynicism about the law to get any more space in the human heart.

Despite Dr. King's truthful warning that "riots are the language of those who are unheard," the cure won't come through riots. It will come when we turn away from domination to community. The walks now happening in our city's great streets are hardly riots, and we urge proper, lawful and respectful policing of these great laments of the human spirit. We not only urge such respect: we urge it in the name of God's justice and power.

Additionally, we urge conversations at all levels of government that actively provide the policing of the police. We want Governor Cuomo to veto Law 7801/A9853 so that the police are not the only ones responsible for policing themselves. We should also establish a permanent special prosecutor in the City of New York with jurisdiction for all matters of police misconduct. Finally, we must demand that the use of the choke-hold be identified as a crime in New York City.

These actions will begin to heal the community's broken and frightened heart. They will begin to restore trust in democratic systems. They will police the police. And in doing such things, they will point to the power of Almighty God, who is not mocked by human violence.