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The murder of George Floyd sparked a long, hot summer of racial outrage, but it was also the starting point for a new collective of pastors in western Washington who saw the need to open up a more nuanced dialog about race relations and reconciliation.
Lonnie Arnold has the vision, and others soon joined in the Racial Reconciliation Network.
Is the discussion next on Northwest Now.
Lonnie Arnold was a police officer for 26 years, but he also worked in the ministry and became a pastor.
He's currently at the new Salem Church in Tacoma.
So he sits at a unique intersection as law enforcement, a person of color, a faith leader, and now as one of the people trying to bring about peace and reconciliation through dialog and engagement.
We learned about the Racial Reconciliation Network through one of Keats's profile pieces that streams on our website at Kbtx dot org.
Here's a preview of that story.
When the political polarization happens, it's a struggle over power and we're trying to dominate one another.
The gospel calls us to come away from those positions where we're struggling for power and come together to love each other.
That's a whole different dynamic.
My parents were born and raised in Arkansas and then migrated north to Seattle, which is where me and all my siblings come into play.
We were born and raised in Seattle during a time in Seattle where there was forced bussing.
We got bused out to North Seattle, which put me in the context of going to school in a predominantly white context.
I really think that that was one of the starting points of shaping my perspective on diversity.
For quite a while I was bi vocational.
So I was working as a police officer and then I was also periodically pastoring and working in ministry as well.
The police world helped me to see life with a greater sense of reality.
My faith world helped me to understand that I'm dealing with human beings who are no different than I am.
With the combination of COVID where everybody's on lockdown and then the killing of George Floyd happens, it was like it shocked the nation.
And regardless of people's race, everybody was concerned about what they saw happen to George Floyd.
My phone started ringing.
Had we addressed this?
How do we talk about this?
People Frustrated, angry, mad.
I started the Racial Reconciliation Network because of a need, a big need.
Our churches in this region were not working together well.
We can create something in this community that hasn't existed in a sustainable way.
Lonnie, thanks so much for coming to Northwest now.
Great to have you in to talk about really a difficult subject, but probably shouldn't be a difficult subject.
And we'll get into that in a minute.
But first, start me out a little bit with your biography.
Who are you?
Where did you come up and how did you find yourself in this role?
Okay, thank you.
It's a blessing to be here, first of all.
And I grew up in Seattle, Washington, born and raised there.
My parents migrated from Arkansas and came up to this area for a better life.
Like I said, I was born and raised there, graduated from Cleveland High School, left the area, went to college in Portland, got married while I was down there, came back, got into law enforcement.
Even though my primary focus was ministry.
So that was kind of a unique mix that I had.
And after getting into law enforcement field, one of the things that really dawned on me in that process was there's a lot of overlap between law enforcement and ministry because you're dealing with people when they're in crisis situations a lot of time.
So that's that led me into just, you know, kind of merging those two in one sense with the overlap.
And I've continued on in ministry.
I retired from the King County Sheriff's Office after 26 years or retired as a police sergeant, and then from there continued on in ministry.
And this whole racial reconciliation that work, that and leading now really came about in response to the George Floyd killing and and I think that's so interesting about you is the fact you really sit at the intersection of a lot of very related and in our society conflicted areas law enforcement plus faith rest being an African-American man who's seeing both hands.
Your folks have the talk with you when you were when you were young, your mom or dad tell you, listen, you you engage the cops.
Here's what you need to be doing.
You know, I grew up in a Christian home, so they always taught us to be respectful.
And so I kind of knew that intuitively.
We didn't have the big talk because a lot of times, most of our time was spent in youth group activities.
And and those kinds of things.
And so and there was I think there was a different relationship with the law enforcement community that I was dealing with in Seattle at the time.
We had a Seattle police officer who lived down the street from us, and so we had a connection with him.
And so we didn't have the kind of the the tension in the relationship that you see these days.
And so I was really fortunate.
As you're describing the relationship and I've worked in six states, every police department I've ever talked to and dealt with once that relationship.
Yes, they weren't what you've just described.
Why can't we get it?
Yeah, well, I think part of it is, you know, politically we polarize and then a lot of times what happens when we polarize, we're not listening to each other.
You know, we're not sitting down at the table and really trying to understand where the other person's coming from.
You know, and then there's you know, there's there's people in the community who keep things enflamed.
And I think really what what it takes is we've got to slow down and we've got to enter into each other's world and maybe get the nuts out of the conversation.
On both sides.
On all sides.
Martin Luther King said there can be no healing without a with or without accountability.
When you look at George Floyd and here in Tacoma, you look at many else.
Have we had that accountability yet?
Is it time to move toward reconciliation or do we still need to be on the accountability piece?
Can they exist together?
Give me your thoughts on that.
Yeah, I really think.
I really think they go hand in hand because, you know, if you're going to have accountability, there has to be a level of trust, and trust comes through relationship building.
And so if if you know, if a group of citizens wants to hold the police accountable and the police don't trust that they're going to be fair, then the police are going to resist that.
I mean, there's a there's a police culture.
That looks at the community and at times doesn't trust the community to look out for their best interests.
And we've seen that in recent years with a lot of defund the police movement and those kinds of things.
And the police feel offended because they're putting their own personal safety on the line every day.
And then they're taking all these hits from the community.
And in reality, they're not taking it from the whole community.
They're taking it from a segment of the community that's very vocal and maybe has an agenda rather than being willing to come and sit down at the table and understand what police are dealing with.
And that's one of the things I have found historically, too, that it's very easy to pick out the outliers or the people who are the big voices.
But when you go into the community and talk to folks, they want law enforcement, right?
They want the help.
They want the support.
They want their kids growing up on safe streets.
They're the ones who want it almost more than the, you know, the gentrified white folks out in the suburbs.
Yeah, they rely on that.
You don't hear that much, right?
It doesn't get a lot of press.
And, you know, and I think on the flip side of that, the the police department has to be more proactive in relationship building with the community, especially in minority communities where there's maybe a higher degree of distrust.
It's kind of like how can we find our way in the communities and a little less us versus them maybe, yes, and a little less of the thin blue line mentality and a little less of the militaristic approach.
How do those playing.
Yeah, those those those playing pretty significantly.
I mean, having been a police officer.
See, I can hit you on all this.
I mean, I know the public face of the law enforcement community, what we say in public and and what the public expects to hear out of us and all of that is good.
And let me be quick to say that the majority of our law enforcement community are really sincere, hardworking, dedicated people.
But there's also a culture in the police world that needs to be modified, because I know that there's a public face.
We're here to serve the community.
And that's all true.
But there's also a locker room face.
There's a locker room narrative that goes on that needs to be checked.
Where were those individuals within the law enforcement community who promote an us versus them mentality that that needs to be slowly worked out of the police department?
My next question was, are we hiring the right people and recruiting from the right sources when it comes to police?
Some folks might argue that we need to the military, the police pipeline needs to be curtailed a little bit.
There are other people with other backgrounds that could be police officers, too.
What are your thoughts about that?
Yeah, I you know, I don't think it's an either or.
I you know, the people who are coming out of the military bring some valuable skills.
And I and I've met a number of police officers who have military backgrounds.
They get it.
I mean, they get the need to relationship build in the community.
And there there's some some great police officers with military backgrounds.
But I also think, like you were inferring that there is a need to recruit other people who maybe have softer skills.
You know, there are better in the people's skill arena.
And a lot of times those those two skill sets are pitted against each other rather than how do we cultivate a broader skill set in the law enforcement community so that we we move into the community with the intention of being proactive, relationship building.
And there's cultures within cultures.
And I've been exposed to this quite a bit in my work covering crimes of cops over the years, you know, the SWAT team and the violent fugitive Warrant team and the Scorpion team that was involved in another city, you know, interdiction team.
They have a little bit of a subculture even within police culture.
How do you deal with that?
How do we address that?
Is it something to be concerned about?
Is that is that how it is?
Set me straight.
Well, I really think within the police culture.
So let me just maybe pull the curtain back a little bit.
I think one of the things and this is a value in the police department that a lot of times I don't think people really pick up on.
For example, I think the critical thing in those areas is supervision in the field.
Is there adequate supervision in the field for a supervisor to be on scene in those critical situations?
Who has the skill set to de-escalate things as quickly as possible and remind folks of the mission, the values?
I mean, because when I was a police sergeant, that was that was one of my primary focuses.
It was my job to minimize unnecessary use of force and to make sure that we were treating citizens with respect and dignity.
So here you come with a racial reconciliation network, bringing people together to talk about race.
Why are we afraid to talk about race?
That seems like I think people are afraid of making mistakes.
And they're afraid of getting canceled.
They're afraid of losing their jobs.
They're afraid of pushback.
And being labeled fragile if they're white.
Does this just does this help or does this add up to a lot of not engaging where it's just like, hey, man, we're good.
We don't have to have this conversation, right?
A lot of you're all good.
I'll see you later.
Well, it's easier not to have the conversation if you have fear about what What the potential outcome is going to be.
And unfortunately, there are people who capitalize on keeping the race issue hot rather than trying to.
Let's let's turn down the volume on this.
And let's really start engaging each other in a meaningful way.
I mean, and part of it means I really have to care about you as a person.
And so it goes back to my own personal value system.
Do I have a value system that honors other people and other cultures that are different than mine?
So you have this conversation and it sounds great where you could straighten me out on some things.
I can accept it.
I can tell you there's no jeopardy there.
Here comes social media.
Helping or hurting?
I mean, because, you know, I mean, people get on social media and it's almost as if they feel like they're anonymous and they will say things on social media to other people about other people not really thinking about the impact that it's going to have on that person.
A group of people or, you know, somebody else who just happens to be scrolling through.
And when you demonize people, it it creates an environment where people feel like it's not safe to have a conversation.
If I feel like you're blaming me.
You're you're you're punishing me.
Again, I don't want to engage.
Yeah, I'm at the amount, you know, what's the benefit, you know, of hopping on social media.
And likewise, if I'm doing you people right, you're not going to engage.
You know, and so it really it really takes courage.
And and I would say love to be willing to engage in this conversation in a way where really, you know, in what we're doing in the racial reconciliation, we're bringing pastors and Christian leaders and business people together to have these kinds of conversations.
And we're really focused on staying away from the political left and the political right.
Yeah, because in the political world, the goal is to dominate the other side.
It's a power.
It's a power fight.
And so there's there's not this collaborative conversation going on where we're really problem solving and trying to get to root causes and understand how we can improve the atmosphere in the community and how we can help people feel like they really belong to our community.
So give me 30 seconds.
I'll give you a longer 30 seconds.
Who is my neighbor?
You're talking about the love.
You may not be Christian.
It was my neighbor.
Everybody and anybody in this community is my neighbor.
And so it could be I mean, you you're white and black.
You know, historically, we could we could have some animosity against one another.
But from a biblical perspective, race doesn't matter in the sense of I don't get to pick and choose who I who I'm called to love.
And we might have different political views, different cultural backgrounds, different views about this or that.
Doesn't matter whether we agree or not, I'm still called to love you.
And so when we start thinking from that vantage point, all of a sudden it's kind of like, okay, the question becomes how do I love somebody who has a different perspective than I have?
And a lot of that begins with listening and hearing people's stories and understanding where they came from.
And when I listen to your stories, like, oh, we've got some things in common.
Yeah, or no wonder he feels that way.
Attitude surveys a lot of research on this.
For a lot of years in the 6070s, the racist felt like they were coming together.
Now attitude research is showing the racist feel and perceive that they are growing apart.
And some of that research has come back questioning why it's a hot potato, because every you know, everybody's got a job is involved in DTI, Right.
What are your thoughts about that helping or hurting or does the way it's presented matter?
Talk a little bit about that.
I think the way that is presented it really matters because if you walk into a D-I training session and the trainers have an agenda to bash white males to make sure that white people feel guilty as they leave the room, then it's it doesn't bring everybody together.
And what we're trying to do in contrast to that is create an environment of grace where we acknowledge the history of the past and the injustices of the past, but not blame you personally for what happened in the past.
You have the opportunity and I have the opportunity to say, this is what we inherited as Americans, but it's our time.
We're up to bat to make steps forward, to help bridge the gap that's been there and to heal the wounds that have been there.
Part of that and one of the other things that's being looked at is I feel like we are heading toward resegregation.
You know, sports in the military, in so many institutions in our country over the years have worked at integration.
I see a resegregation happening.
Special events, special programs, special fraternity, special sorority special classes.
It seems like we're going the wrong direction.
A direction when it when it comes.
Do you perceive that at all?
Is that a problem?
And is that is that a symptom of a mistake we're making when it comes to having these dialogs and achieving reconciliation?
Yeah, I do perceive that, and I think it is a problem.
And, you know, one of the reasons I'm focused on pastors is because over over our historical journey here in America, the church says a segregated, most segregated hour America.
So I love that on Sunday.
So so when George Floyd happened and I called together, invited a group of pastors to the table, white and black.
One of the things we talked about is that we don't have a credible voice in the community about this race issue and how to unify because we're segregated.
On Sunday morning.
And fortunately, what I'm discovering in the broader church community is there really is a desire from pastors across the board, racially denominational, politically to grow in unity.
And so what we're working at doing is coming together so that we have something to say credible in the community for those outside the church.
Because they're struggling with the same thing.
I mean, we're we're all struggling with the same thing, right?
You know, how do how do we engage people who come from a different racial background, different cultural background, different perspective to and engage in a conversation and in relationship where we start thinking about each other's best interests.
Martin Luther King also said the arc of history bends toward justice.
You ultimately optimistic, Pessimistic?
Do you think that we're going to go through a tough period here and come back together?
Do you see us?
What what's how do you what's your read on this?
What does reconciliation look like?
Is it possible?
I really do think it's possible.
You know, and I think it goes back to looking at our value systems and encouraging each other to live according to those value systems.
I mean, you know, I can say I love you and that, you know, the lenses that I'm looking through tell me to be sensitive to you, to take the time to build a relationship with you.
But then all this pressure starts hitting, you know, social media, you know, the political agendas.
Look, there you go.
The political agendas and all that kind of stuff.
And that starts pounding on you.
And sometimes people get caught up in that, and then they pull out of the positive engagement.
And we've got to be very intentional about positively engaging one another in not only in conversation, but I've got to start looking out for your best interests.
For example, I have a pastor friend who's Latino, and, you know, he's concerned about Latino kids in school.
Are they getting what they need?
And but those are not just his Latino kids.
Those are my Latino kids, too.
Those are your Latino kids, too, Right.
And when we start thinking more inclusively about loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, then all of a sudden the defenses start to come down and we can engage each other in a positive way.
Last minute here, 60 seconds.
What do you need?
What do you want out of folks?
How can people help you?
What do you want to see?
What do you need from folks?
You know, I want to encourage people to to think about what their value system is and to take the opportunity, look for opportunities to build relationships with somebody who doesn't look like you.
I mean, from a Christian perspective, I call people to remember that we're called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, that that's the big thing.
And in terms of in terms of helping this kind of of effort, there's people all around you in your neighborhood reach out and touch somebody positive, positively, whether it's at school, whether it's at work, whether it's in the neighborhood, and a lot of good community organizations here in Tacoma in the south.
Sound too specific.
I love we're on the air in western Washington.
But but here in Tacoma, there's a lot of great resources.
Lonnie, thanks so much for coming in Northwest now.
And I think it gives a lot of folks to think about what reconciliation is, what it looks like and where we need to be heading.
Thank you for having me.
It is sometimes frustrating that programs can't deliver the answer.
We all want the answer.
The bottom line reconciliation is the closest we're going to get to the answer, where all groups celebrate differences and realize that this country's highest ideal is overcoming racial, economic and religious resentments to form a more perfect union.
I hope this program got you thinking and talking to watch this program again or to share it with others.
Northwest now can be found on the web at KBTC dot org and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter at Northwest.
Now Streamable podcast of this program is available under the northwest now tab at KB Etsy Dawg and on Apple Podcasts by searching Northwest now that's going to do it for this edition of Northwest now and till next time.
I'm Tom Layson thanks for watching.
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