Several elements complicated this episode, notably the fact that Sgt. O’Neill’s body camera was not turned on during the encounter and the fact that the mayor of South Bend, Indiana was running for President of the United States. Questions surfaced about the city’s Use of Force Policy, which had not been updated for several years, and about the consistency/transparency of disciplinary actions across the department.
On the occasion of the shooting, the mayor (an Episcopalian) reached out to clergy serving in predominantly Black neighborhoods, inviting them to attend town-hall meetings as representatives of their communities. He also consulted with those clergy involved with Faith in Indiana, a non-profit community organizing group describing itself as “a vehicle for faith communities and people of good will to work together for racial and economic equity in Indiana.” Wanting to be more than window-dressing for the city government, Faith in Indiana sent representatives to community listening sessions and submitted written proposals calling for a Disciplinary Matrix and a revised Use of Force Policy.
Throughout the ultimately successful process of developing a Disciplinary Matrix and revising the city’s Use of Force Policy, participants repeatedly acknowledged the tension between the practical application of policy and the vision that policy is designed to express. The involvement of clergy in these discussions kept the vision part of that equation from being canceled out by low expectations of officers’ access to higher values in moments of crisis. By Proclaiming the Dream of Beloved Community in the midst of policy discussions, participants of faith were able to raise the bar for police accountability to the community.
The high profile nature of the situation—with the mayor running for President—greatly upped the political ante for all concerned. It also generated distrust in a situation already marked by distrust, since each party suspected the others of political grandstanding. Because the mayor was quite public about his faith as an Episcopalian and a member of the Cathedral congregation, the Cathedral was reluctant to involve itself in a situation which might put it in public opposition to the mayor. Instead, the Cathedral counseled the mayor from the background, while Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, a tiny, integrated parish on the predominantly Black and Latinx west side of South Bend, played a more visible role as a Faith in Indiana participant.
Another challenge was expressing solidarity while avoiding white savior mode. The white, female priest from Holy Trinity addressed this challenge by taking a role nobody else wanted—point person on data accountability. This put her on the team where she could support and encourage from the back row, so to speak. Sometimes, just being visibly present in the background when someone else is speaking is a way of showing support and putting one’s own privilege at the disposal of others.
While this was a process thrust upon us by events over which we had no control, several factors positioned us for leadership in the midst of these events:
- Belonging—involvement with interfaith community organizing through Faith in Indiana and ecumenical prayer through Pastors’ Hour of Prayer were opportunities to forge relationships of solidarity with other west side clergy so that, when a call went out for clergy to attend town-hall meetings, we were on the email list.
- Steadfastness—establishing an abiding concern for the people affected by a policy decision and showing up to meetings again and again, long after the spotlight has moved elsewhere, demonstrates to your collaborators that you are committed to the long, slow work of cultural change.
- Perspective—while policy change is not the same as cultural change, policy change can proclaim the dream of Beloved Community by establishing a community standard to which the culture can aspire.
- Resources—drawing upon policy resources from other municipalities not only saves time but also lends credibility to your policy proposals, especially if the proposed policy has been in effect elsewhere for long enough to have produced results.
- Language—knowing or learning the language specific to the type of policy under development will help you understand the significance of particular changes and lends credibility to your policy proposals.
Developing policy is different from advocacy in calling upon us to work closely in negotiation with the people whose culture we were seeking to change. Preparation, therefore, looks like cultivating the relationships and the skills that earn you a seat at the table and give you something to offer once you get there..
Initially, we were standing in the midst of crowds that rose up in protest. Then we were sitting among community leaders offering proposals for change. After a while, even those numbers dwindled so that, ultimately, our collaborators were a small group of lay and clergy leaders, the legal team in the Mayor’s office, the Board of Public Safety, and police leadership.
This process cost us nothing but time.
The Main Events
In many ways, the Main Events—the Board of Public Safety’s votes to adopt the Disciplinary Matrix and the new Use of Force Policy—were not really the main events. From a proclamatory standpoint, the main events were the editorials and press conferences and persistent negotiations that led up to those votes. From a breach-repairing standpoint, the main events will be the occasions when application of those policies either prevents tragedy from occurring or provides remedy in the aftermath of tragedy.
- June 16, 2019—Eric Logan is shot by South Bend Police Sergeant Ryan O’Neill
- June 23, 2019—Clergy participate in Town Hall meeting at which the Mayor and Police Chief answer questions about several lapses in police discipline revealed by the Logan case.
- July – August, 2019—Clergy working together as Faith in St. Joseph County (FaithSJC) present a 5-point proposal that includes:
- de-escalation training
- procedural-justice training
- critical-incident review
- revision of the use-of-force policy
- implementation of Peacemaker Fellowships
- October 6, 2019—Clergy call a Peacemaker Summit prior to County Sheriff’s elections, and Presidential Primaries, calling for public commitments from candidates.
- October, 2019 – June, 2020—Clergy attend public meetings, calling both for a Police Discipline Matrix and a Revision of the City Use of Force Policy
- June 11, 2020—FaithSJC holds meeting with mayor and prayer vigil outside of County-City Building regarding the city’s reluctance to vote on a Discipline Matrix and revised Use of Force Policy. Shortly afterwards, the mayor announces changes underway.
- July 15, 2020—Mayor presents Discipline Matrix to the Board of Public Safety for approval. FaithSJC holds press conference supporting the new matrix and calling for public accountability regarding its implementation.
- July 19, 2020—Board of Public Safety approves Disciplinary Matrix.
- July – September, 2020 FaithSJC members continue to participate in City-run Community Action Group Meetings, calling for revisions to the Use of Force Policy including clarification of:
- stages of de-escalation
- standards of necessity or reasonableness
- the nature of the threat that justifies force
- lethal use of force to be a last resort
- Public accountability
- October 23, 2020—mayor announces decision to disperse money for violence prevention in small grants rather than Peacemaker Fellowships.
- December 4, 2020—mayor’s office releases Use of Force draft that ignores many of Faith SJC’s proposals and concerns. FaithSJC members attend Community Action Group Meetings to provide feedback, including suggestions of specific language.
- January 21, 2021—mayor presents draft to Board of Public Safety with little change in response to Community Action Group meeting. The Board of Public Safety is scheduled to vote on the draft at it’s next month’s meeting.
- January – February, 2021—FaithSJC adopts a strategic policy of letters to the editor, press conferences, a call to action and one-on-one conversations with members of the Board of Public Safety, calling upon them to reject the proposed draft unless more changes are made.
- South Bend faith group urges stricter rules on police use of force
- WNDU—Faith in Indiana wants more input on police use of force
- WSBT—Faith leaders say South Bend use of force policy doesn’t go far enough | WSBT
- ABC57—Local pastors ask for more changes to the revised Use of Force Policy
- ABC57—Mayor James Mueller on revised South Bend Police Department Use of Force Policy
- WVPE— Local Faith Group Calls For Stronger Police Use Of Force Policy In South Bend
- Faith in Indiana Facebook live
- February 17, 2021—The Board of Public Safety votes to approve the draft policy on the grounds that even this draft is better than keeping the former policy in place, but calls upon the mayor to address concerns within a 2-month window.
- WVPE (public radio) South Bend Board Of Public Safety Approves Police Use Of Force Policy
- WNDU New use of force policy approved for South Bend Police Department
- WSBT South Bend Board of Public Safety approves new use of force policy | WSBT
- ABC57 Board approves South Bend Police Use of Force Policy
- South Bend Tribune South Bend Board of Public Safety approves use of force guidelines but demands more changes
- February 26, 2021—The mayor finally agrees to assign staff to meet with FaithSJC on a weekly basis to hammer out specific language for the Use of Force Policy revisions
- March – April, 2021—FaithSJC consults with legal experts and meets with mayoral staff, but it becomes clear that little is changing and that FaithSJC, the Police Chief and the Fraternal Order of Police are being played off against each other.
- April 15, 2021—FaithSJC schedules a meeting the Police Chief and the Fraternal Order of Police at which several points of agreement are identified. After that meeting, the police chief joins in meetings with mayoral staff.
- April 21,2021—mayor presents the Board of Public Safety with some partial emendations to the Use of Force Policy
- May-June, 2021—FaithSJC continues to push for specific changes
- June 16, 2021—The Board of Public Safety approves changes to the Use of Force Policy which adopt FaithSJCs proposals
Over the following months, FaithSJC continued monitoring implementation of the new policy. New developments in the meantime have involved calls for a Mental Health Crisis Response Team to prevent the Use of Force against mentally ill persons who could be effectively approached by mental health professionals.
Ideas for Adaptation
Adaptation of this process for another context would clearly depend on local circumstances. Primary takeaways would include the effectiveness of faith leaders working together and not being afraid to take public stances of moral leadership. The work done by the various task forces on the FaithSJC forged strong positive relationships among the various faith leaders, especially where white faith leaders stood, less as speakers than as supporters of speakers of color.
The long time it took to get action from the city on this matter was frustrating. A positive aspect of that time span was that it allowed solidarity to build. Once the excitement of the initial demonstrations died down, those who remained steadfast grew in trust of one another.
Rev. Cn. Terri L. Bays
Diocese of Northern Indiana
Terri Bays is the Missioner for Transitions and Formation in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana, a position which includes serving as staff liaison to the diocesan Becoming Beloved Community Commission. Terri has served as a priest at the Cathedral of St. James and at the Church of the Holy Trinity, both in South Bend, Indiana.