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Faith leaders in dual roles guiding congregations and police

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FILE - St. Paul Police officers move in on a crowd past a church, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. The Rev. Charles Graham and other Twin Cities faith leaders who minister to communities historically ravaged by racial injustice know their neighborhoods are also the most vulnerable to poverty and crime. Most of the worst looting and vandalism this week struck long-established Native and African American areas that more recently became home to large groups of Hmong, Somali and Latino migrants.(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

ST. PAUL, Minn. – As an African American pastor who serves as a chaplain in the Minneapolis police precinct where the white officer charged with murdering George Floyd worked, the Rev. Charles Graham believes he is exactly where God intended.

“God is putting us where he wants us to be,” said Graham, pastor emeritus at Macedonia Baptist Church in Minneapolis and chaplain at the 3rd Precinct for six years. “I know it’s my job to show the hope. We might as well learn how to live together.”

Graham and other Twin Cities faith leaders who minister to communities historically ravaged by racial injustice know their neighborhoods are also the most vulnerable to poverty and crime. Most of the worst looting and vandalism this week struck long-established Native American and African American areas that more recently became home to large groups of Hmong, Somali and Latino migrants.

Firm in their denunciation of brutality and racism, the religious leaders believe that using faith to build bridges between law enforcement and the communities they police will ultimately keep everyone safe.

“We’re better together,” said Joan Austin, a minister at New Creation Baptist Church in Minneapolis and a chaplain in the 5th Precinct, which was engulfed in violent protests the night after the third precinct was torched. “I lift (officers and congregants) up in prayer every single night.”

Praying with police officers before they go on duty, bringing them into meetings with the communities they serve but often don’t live in, and trying to break down mutual fear and suspicion are some of the ways in which chaplains serve both their congregations and their precincts.

“The reason I work with the police department right now is that I want to help the culture change,” Graham said. “Some policemen think they’re in charge of black folks. If you’d treat me as someone that’s important too, it would be so much better.”

Even as he struggles with his own sense of helplessness Carl Valdez, a long-time deacon at Incarnation / Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, has been spending long hours at the 5th Precinct where he’s chaplain, urging the officers not to give in to anger or that same helplessness.