In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul tells us that the God-given role of the government is to “hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.” In other words, people who are doing the right thing ought not to live in fear of being harmed by the authorities.
In recent weeks, two Black men have been shot and killed by law enforcement officers in our city. Andre Hill was shot within ten seconds of being approached in a friend’s garage by a Columbus police officer. He had been invited to his friend’s house that particular evening. No weapon was found at the scene.
Much has been made of the fact that the officer’s body camera was not activated and that he failed to provide Mr. Hill with any medical attention which are both violations of police policy. But the larger, unanswered, fundamental question is this: Why was a law-abiding Black man fatally shot by a police officer after a mere 10-second engagement?
Three weeks before this fatal shooting, a Franklin County plainclothes sheriff’s deputy who was searching for a suspect confronted Casey Goodson Jr. Mr. Goodson was neither the suspect being sought nor was he the subject of any other investigation. Mr. Goodson was entering his grandmother's home at noon with a Subway sandwich for lunch after having visited his dentist. He was shot multiple times by this deputy sheriff and killed.
The problem is larger than a “few bad apples” who pulled the triggers or a few racist police who kill Black men who are doing no wrong. The deeper problem is the existence of a systemic culture within many police departments, as evidenced here in Columbus, where Black men are perceived as threats by the police. The result is that Black communities always feel harassed, threatened, and afraid for their lives. As leaders within central Ohio’s faith community, we stand united in demanding that our public authorities reform and renew our law enforcement culture to assure that law-abiding citizen need not fear for their lives.
On Monday, Dec. 28, Columbus Safety Director Ned Pettus fired the police officer who killed Mr. Hill, saying, “Known facts do not establish that this use of deadly force was objectively reasonable.” Now independent investigations into the shootings of Mr. Hill and Mr. Goodson will determine whether the officers involved will face criminal charges for their conduct.
We stand with the entire community in expecting these investigations to result in transparency, accountability, and justice. It is a simple fact that Black men who are doing no wrong live in fear for their lives. Black wives are afraid for their husbands. Black parents are afraid for their sons. Black grandparents are afraid for their grandsons.
On Nov. 3, three-fourths of Columbus voters—an overwhelming majority—adopted a city charter amendment to create a first-ever civilian review board to investigate charges of police misconduct, including the improper use of deadly force. This is a strong statement by the public of the need to reform police accountability in our community.
We are at a critical moment as a community. We have a choice to make and the opportunity to address our policing culture at the very roots, not only for the Black community, or even the community as a whole but for police officers as well. We recognize that there are many good men and women who serve in our police departments. We call upon them to stand up for transparency, honesty, and accountability and to strongly oppose a culture of institutional self-preservation. Those in positions of leadership need to be able to address breaches of conduct forthrightly and definitively.
At this moment of crisis, we have an opportunity—with open hearts and open minds—to review critically all aspects of our policing culture and policies. Our goal must be to ensure that our policing culture and practices treat every individual as a moral equal, with equal protection under the law.
As faith leaders, we pray for peace in our community. But, according to the Bible, peace always demands justice and righteousness. Let us be clear: we are angry and deeply distressed by the senseless loss of Black lives at the hands of the police in the recent past. We must together seize this moment and together create a new and better future founded upon justice and righteousness for everyone in our community.
Columbus Faith Leaders