Resisting the Logic of Dominance in Our Police Forces

Nanci Armstrong-Temple. Image via Bart Nagel.

On Nov. 4, Berkeley City Council candidate Nanci Armstrong-Temple was called out of her bed in the early morning to support her houseless neighbors, who were being raided by the Berkeley Police Department. Nanci’s neighbors are members of an intentional tent collective — what's been referred to as the “homeless encampment.”

The Berkeley Police Department, unannounced, raided this intentional tent collective on Nov. 4 and forced Nanci’s neighbors to move. Nanci was also arrested, and charged with a felony crime of “lynching.”

Lynching is a perverted name for a peculiar crime in California, which refers to “taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer.” It is punishable by up to four years in prison. While the District Attorney of Alameda County dropped the felony charges, it is important to think about the politics and policies that create the conditions of possibility for an intentional tent collective to be raided and terrorized by the police.

Likewise, these same conditions of possibility enabled Berkeley police officers to arrest and charge a black woman with the felony crime of lynching. This is not only criminalizing those who are most impacted by violent systems, but terrorizing black Americans who stand in the tradition of nonviolent resistance. Nanci Armstrong-Temple, who has for many years stood in solidarity with all of her neighbors, including those who are most impacted, had to face the terror of the Berkeley police, an unjust arrest, and a lengthy stay in a county jail.

This is another form of racialized terror for a black woman to endure. Our call in this 21st century is to be faithful in the small things, follow the ways of Jesus, and resist empire and oppressive systems at all cost. This is the cost of discipleship, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer teaches. The active resistance to systems that perpetuate terror and oppression is what we are called to do. This is part of being faithful in the small things: resisting systems that perpetuate the logic of dominance and that do not conform to the eschatological hope of collective liberation.

The felony charges were dropped yesterday (Nov. 7). But this fact remains: Nanci and her neighbors were terrorized by the Berkeley Police Department. We must work to eradicate multi-system oppressions that create the conditions of possibility for such terror to materialize in supposed peace officers. We must work in our various communities to dismantle the logic of dominance that creates terror, and make "little moves against destruction" so that a horizon of justice can materialize.

Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, Ph.D, is Director of Public Theology Initiatives at Faith Matters Network in Nashville, Tenn., and Visiting Scholar, Vanderbilt University Divinity School. Follow them on Twitter at @irobyn.

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