Archbishop Gregory says 'we've got to talk' about police reform

Gregory at COArena 1 Archbishop Wilton Gregory at a Mass celebrated at the Capital One Arena before the 2020 March for Life. | Peter Zelasko/CNA

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington called for police reform in a virtual town hall event on Tuesday, saying that fear of law enforcement officers among African-American and other minority communities is an indication of the need for ongoing conversation about policing. 

The leader of the Washington archdiocese, which includes much of Southern Maryland, said that social media posts allow negative interactions with police officers to garner widespread attention, even while most law enforcement officers are committed servants of their communities. 

"The image is often skewed," said Gregory, "that the police community is dominated by rouge officers, and that's not true." The archbishop noted that the vast majority of officers are "wonderful, generous, and dedicated guardians of public safety."

Nevertheless, Gregory said, real reform of police policy is needed, as other participants in the town hall emphasized the need for police training and resources to address mental health crisis response.

"Until we can get to the point where a young Black kid, a young Black man, can feel safe when he's encountering a police officer, we've got to talk," Gregory said.

The town hall was hosted by the Maryland Catholic Conference, which represents the state's Catholic bishops. 

"Here in the state of Maryland, we are not having conversations about defunding the police," Delegate Darryl Barnes, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said during the event. 

"But we are looking at ways in which we can reallocate funds for mental health training and counseling that the police department should not be doing but other subject matter experts in those fields." 

William Milam, vice-president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police said during the town hall that his organization is eager for greater transparency and accountability of the police.

"We have the same aim as everybody else; we want transparency; we want bad officers to be held accountable; and we want good officers to be praised," Milam.

Jenny Kraska, Executive Director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, told CNA Wednesday that the event was a success, not least because of the tone of discourse. All the participants "showed great respect and civility for one another and the issues," she said.

Kraska said it was important for Catholics to contribute to the conversion on issues of race and reform, "because all acts of racism hurt all of us in the Body of Christ since we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and deserve the dignity that comes with that existence." 

The town hall and similar conversations, she said, help people to learn from each other and to plot "the best ways forward to heal the broken trust that many minority communities have experienced in their relationships with the officers uniquely trusted to protect them." 

A second town hall, featuring Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, is set to be held on October 26.

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