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Interfaith Coalition urges Capitol Hill to mend divisions between communities and law enforcement

Recent violence prompts group to send letter to lawmakers

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Police-protect-and-serveLOUISVILLE – The recent shootings in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and Dallas have prompted the Interfaith Coalition to appeal to U.S. lawmakers to “mend divisions” between communities and law enforcement. In a letter to congressional leaders, the coalition, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), says the shootings are another reminder of the “great harm caused by unaddressed racial injustices and divisions in America.”

“As we continue to promote civil dialogue and work to heal community divisions, we also recognize that your leadership is critical to addressing the monumental crisis of racial injustice that has plagued this nation since its inception,” the letter states.

The coalition referred to The Washington Post which reported 990 fatal police shootings in 2015, more than double the number of police shootings in a single year as stated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The coalition seeks congressional support for the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act of 2015 (S. 2168/H.R. 2875.) The bill would require law enforcement to report data on traffic and pedestrian stops, frisk and body searches, use of deadly force and other demographic information such as race, ethnicity, age and gender.

The coalition is also asking lawmakers to support the End Racial Profiling Act (S. 1056/H.R. 1933) that prohibits racial profiling by law enforcement and to support data collection on its prevalence.

“Nationwide surveys show that during traffic stops, black and Hispanic drivers are three times more likely than white drivers to be searched by police,” the coalition letter states. “Black drivers are also twice as likely as white drivers to be arrested during a traffic stop despite the fact that police generally have lower ‘contraband hit rates’ when they search black versus white drivers.”

The letter also refers to The Washington Post’s findings that black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers. The coalition says the trends are emblematic of the racial disparities that exist at every stage of the justice system, including the federal criminal justice system.

“As an interfaith community, we are guided by our traditions’ foundational principles of equality, respect, love and mercy for all people, and we are committed to addressing the United States’ deep racial divisions and their consequences,” the letter said. “We deplore violent attacks on law enforcement and desire constructive cooperation among all community stakeholders.”

The letter concludes with the hope Congress will lead efforts to advance justice reforms and build trust between law enforcement and local communities.

“Now more than ever it is important that we listen to the message of the gospels that calls us to pay special attention to the needs of those who are alienated, mistreated, and facing injustice,” said Catherine Gordon, representative for International Issues with the Office of Public Witness. “The OPW hopes that this legislation will help to establish trust between communities and the law enforcement officials who are tasked with protecting them by establishing justice reforms that protect human life and ensure equality and proportionality.”

PC(USA) was one of 52 members of the Interfaith Coalition to sign the letter to Congress. Click here for the entire letter.

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