Six Boston clergy members from five churches sent a letter requesting to meet with the mayor, the Suffolk county district attorney and Police Commissioner earlier this month to discuss equal treatment of citizens by police. The letter was sent to discuss the religious leader’s concerns about police treatment in Boston in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases in Ferguson and New York.
Religious leaders in the United States have a long history of involvement in civil rights and other social justice issues, so a meeting of this kind is certainly not unheard of.
“That you meet is a responsibility and a commitment that (religious leaders) can make that’s good,” said Stephen Pope, a theology professor at Boston College.
While a meeting of this kind is only one of many things religious leaders can do, it is an important one. “[The members of the Boston clergy that sent the letter] want to know that [police leaders and government officials] are going to be held accountable because people don’t just change because they feel like changing, usually it’s because pressure comes to them,” said Pope.
The religious voice is an important one in issues of racial injustice, which is why many students have been upset by the lack of public response by Boston College’s Jesuit administration. “We believe this resounding silence reflects a greater institutional disconnect between Boston College and the need for discussions about race on campus,” a letter to the administration by the Black Student forum read in part.
Tensions between school officials and Boston College students have also been strained by the recent die-in in front of St. Mary’s, an unauthorized protest for which student participants may face disciplinary action.
Not all of Boston College’s faculty has remained silent on the racial issues brought up by the recent Michael Brown and Eric Gardner cases. Over 15 Boston College theology professors have signed a statement acknowledging the current problems with policing and racial injustice in the United States today.
In the statement written by Tobias Winright, a former cop who is now a theology professor at St. Louis University, signees both acknowledged problems in the police force and committed themselves to prayer, abstinence from meat on Fridays during advent and “public solidarity.”
The public outcry from the events in Ferguson and New York has been immense, which is an important first step in addressing unfair treatment by police. However, effective advocacy cannot end with simply pointing to the problem, according to Pope.
“What we really need now are some concrete plans or proposals… that can be practically useful,” he said.