First Congregational Church of Oakland shares a neighborhood with many homeless people, and they often come to the church in times of mental health crises. Sometimes church members feel unequipped to deal with the erratic behavior: the most heart-wrenching scenes, volunteer leader Nichola Torbett says, are the times when the church is closing for the day, and a person with nowhere else to go absolutely refuses to leave the building.
At least once or twice a month, at their wits’ end, the church members call 911.
Now, the church has joined a small handful of like-minded congregations with a radical goal: to stop calling the police. Not for mental health crises, not for graffiti on their buildings, not even for acts of violence. These churches believe the American police system, criticized for its impact especially on people of color, is such a problem that they should wash their hands of it entirely.