A nationwide effort to help congregations better understand police forces will hold its second annual weekend gathering in October, organizers said Tuesday, noting the 65 million Americans who attend worship each week.
The National Faith & Blue Weekend is set for Oct. 8-11 and will be open to any law enforcement agency and any faith community, according to the Rev. Markel Hutchins, CEO of MovementForward, an Atlanta-based civil rights group behind the effort.
Billed as “a powerful initiative that builds bridges to more engaged communities,” National Faith & Blue Weekend seeks “reinforcement” of the links between law enforcement professionals and their communities, Mr. Hutchins said in an interview.
In the first gathering in April 2020, “there were 1,000 community-based events that involved churches and synagogues, 35 different faith communities or faith orientations,” Mr. Hutchins said. “That should demonstrate that there is a real hunger and a real thirst in the faith community and in law enforcement to find solutions.”
Jared Feuer, executive director of the Faith & Blue Weekend office, said 80% to 85% of last year’s events were conducted in person with social distancing and other pandemic-related precautions. Mr. Feuer said he expects the same percentage of in-person and virtual events for 2021.
This year, organizers are working with the American Red Cross to facilitate blood drives in which houses of worship and law enforcement can jointly facilitate donations. It’s expected that congregations will host the donation sites with members and police volunteering to assist donors, while trained Red Cross staffers collect the blood, according to a news release.
According to Mr. Hutchins, the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services is “co-convening” the event with MovementForward. Mr. Feuer said the federal office is not contributing financially to the effort.
Commercial sponsors include FirstNet Built with AT&T, which provides mobile communications to first responders, and the Motorola Solutions Foundation, the charitable arm of the mobile equipment maker. Mr. Feuer said the firms were not disclosing the amount of their sponsorships.
“As long as we have some folks in one corner yelling ‘our lives matter’ and a different group of folks in a different corner yelling ‘our lives matter,’ there’s not much good that we can achieve,” Mr. Hutchins said. “But there is no limit to the good that we can achieve when we sit together and reason together.”
Mr. Hutchins, 44, said demonstrations are not enough to resolve friction between neighborhoods and police.
“I believe in marching, I believe in protesting. But that alone is not going to get us to where we need to be,” he said.
A faith-based activity involving police “empowers faith communities to work collaboratively with law enforcement to reduce the bias, to break down the barriers, and increase mutual respect, which increases real trust,” he added,
In Prince George’s County, Maryland’s second-most populous jurisdiction, police seed the Faith and Blue Weekend as an opportunity to make connections among the county’s 910,000 residents.
In 2020, the police department worked with congregations to host food drives, police-civilian “dance-offs” and movie nights, all aimed at introducing residents to the human aspects of law enforcement.
“We’re all experiencing these challenges, and our agency is in some way trying to do some in some way trying to reach out into the community to better the relationship,” said Sgt. Rodney Gause, faith-based liaison, for the Prince George’s County Police Department.
Lynda Williams, immediate past president of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said such collaborations are essential to the “transformative change” many have been calling for in police-community relations.
“As we talk about change, and this is not a moment, it’s a movement,” said Ms. Williams, a criminal justice professor at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. “It starts with the cornerstones of our communities that we have to give voice and power back to the communities …”
Information about the weekend can be found online at www.faithandblue.org, Mr. Hutchins noted.