Why Clergy Members Are Asking Cops To Use Their Pics For Target Practice

Photo via Twitter.com/PastorJoelle.
Earlier this month, news broke that the North Miami Beach Police Department was using the mug shots of young, Black men as target practice on the gun range. The story prompted national outrage, but one of the loudest responses has been from religious leaders. Under #UseMeInstead, they've been posting photos of themselves, in religious garb, as substitute targets for the department — an echo of the biblical command to "turn the other cheek."

It began when a group of pastors started discussing the issue on the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Facebook group. They then mailed about 100 photos of themselves wearing their collars to the Miami Beach Police. Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson, of Iowa, then suggested they move to Twitter, where the movement really took off. 

"Because of [the clergy's] privileged role in society, people tend to pay attention to us," she told R29, explaining why she'd gotten involved. "The point was to use our privilege. We knew that police would hesitate to shoot at white clergy, and the point was to ask why? Why was it harder to shoot at us than [at] African-American men?"

The practice came to light when Sgt. Valerie Deant, a member of the National Guard, arrived at a shooting range in North Miami Beach for some target practice last month, and was horrified to find a picture of her brother Woody’s face, riddled with bullet holes — in the trash. A group of officers from the North Miami Beach Police Department had just left the range, where they’d been using mug shots of young Black men for target practice, including one of Deant’s little brother, who was arrested in 2000 in connection to a drag race that left two people dead.

News of the practice became national and sparked outrage. Angry residents called for Police Chief Scott Dennis' resignation last week at a City Council meeting. Dennis did not resign, but the council did pass a measure banning the practice. Deant expressed her shock and sadness at finding the picture to the local NBC station: “I was like, 'Why is my brother being used for target practice?...I cried a couple of times.”

The #UseMeInstead hashtag is still gaining steam on Twitter and prompting conversation. Some have criticized the movement for putting the focus on the efforts of (mostly) white clergy members, rather than on the Black communities most affected by racially biased policing. Pastor Colville-Hanson, for her part, acknowledges the critique, but says, "I still think it was a good thing. When people with privilege do work on behalf of justice, it's always complicated — but I welcome the conversation that came out of the critique." 

Below, see the clergy members' photos.

Advertisement
Advertisement