By Bob Allen
An African-American leader in the “young, restless and reformed” Calvinist movement in the Southern Baptist Convention called on President Obama to exercise strong leadership in light of a Nov. 24 grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo., to not indict a white police officer in the August shooting death of a black teenager.
Thabiti Anyabwile, assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, called for a “national campaign to protect citizens and police officers” in a Gospel Coalition blog Nov. 25.
Anyabwile, former pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands, questioned St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s strategy of presenting conflicting eyewitness testimony when all he had to do was show probable cause for the case to go to trial.
He also faulted crowds in Ferguson who responded to the verdict by torching buildings, noting that the history of racial rioting during the civil rights movement “still teaches us that burning down the communities in which you live can soothe unrestrained anger but it can’t produce justice.”
President Obama delivered a statement Monday night reminding citizens that the United States is “a nation built on the rule of law” and criticizing those “who may use the grand jury’s decision as an excuse for violence.”
“Finally, we need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation,” Obama said. “The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic, because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates.”
Anyabwile assessed the president’s remarks as “a few general admissions that ‘there is a problem’ and an unhelpful rebuke aimed at media about riots making ‘good television.’”
Anyabwile said he wished the president had ended his remarks with specific policy initiatives.
Anyabwile said there is “really is no excuse” for not forming a national commission for reviewing the use of deadly force by police authorities. “The president could make this happen with another press conference and stroke of the pen,” he said.
A federal requirement and funding of police body cameras is not a “fix-all remedy,” Anyabwile said, “but the use of body cameras has been shown to improve interactions between officers and the persons they police.”
“The technology is inexpensive and non-invasive,” he said. “The federal government should require and fund the use of such cameras immediately.”
He also called for “the demilitarization of local police departments.”
“In a country that cherishes the rule of law, there’s no good reason for small town police departments to be stocked with military surplus equipment,” he said.
“Ferguson is not Iraq,” he said. “The African-American residents there are not ISIS militants beheading civilians. The possession and use of this equipment is immoral, unjust and provocative.”
“Police departments have successfully quieted riots and looters without such equipment for decades now,” Anyabwile. “In cases where more personnel and equipment are needed, the National Guard should be mobilized.”
“The federal government should immediately remove weapons and vehicles from local departments where officers have zero training in its proper use,” he said.
Anyabwile said he is not a politician and has been around public policy “enough to know that it’s no cure-all.”
“I’m not misplacing my hope,” he said. “I have no sense that doing these things will fix everything or usher in the kingdom of God.
“But this I do know: There is no way people of good conscience or people of Christian faith can look at the events in Ferguson and conclude there’s nothing left for us to do or nothing that can be done.”
Anyabwile said the Ferguson grand jury “has given us our marching orders.”
“They have ordered us to march for a more just system of policing and the protection of all life,” he said. “We are obligated — if we love Christ or love this country — to find a way forward to justice, a way suitable to the dictates of our individual consciences and the word of God.”
Anyabwile acknowledged that not everyone would agree with his recommendations.
“Great!” he replied. “That’s freedom in action. Now propose something better and let’s get to work.”