Charlie Beck speaks during a press conference at City Hall after Mayor Lori Lightfoot officially announced he would be Chicago’s interim police superintendent.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times
Collective efficacy—working with a common purpose for the good of all
Rev. David Gregg
February 13, 2020
I have the privilege of representing the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago and its churches at a number of different organizations. One of those is the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago. This group comprises leaders and representatives from a wide variety of religious traditions across the city: the Roman Catholic and Episcopalian dioceses; the African Methodist Episcopal conference; several councils of Rabbis; several communions of Eastern Orthodox Christians; and various societies of Buddhists, Quakers, Sikhs, Muslims, and Baptists.
The Council of Religious Leaders provides opportunities for us to meet with various civic leaders and voices. Last spring, for example, we met with the author Alex Kotlowitz for a reading from his new book “An American Summer.” As that selection implies, this group is concerned about violence, especially gun violence, and its victims and perpetrators. So, it was not surprising that they hosted the new interim superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, Charlie Beck.
Superintendent Beck was urgent from the very start: “It is very important that we talk,” were the first words of his presentation. And his next sobering words had to do with protecting communities of faith from the violent threat of “fringe ideologies.” Responding to a question about attacks on synagogues, as well as to recent incidents in churches, mosques, and other communities of faith, he spoke of this work under the heading of counter-terrorism. This was a sober reminder. I tend to attribute these attacks to hateful loners and metastasized internet trolls. This term counter-terrorism reminded me of the systematic reinforcement such violence gets from institutions of evil, the structures of domestic terrorism that birth it and support it.
Much of Superintendent Beck’s presentation had to do with the violence young men (for the most part) perpetrate in the streets. He attributed this violence to two main factors: feelings of disenfranchisement and the easy availability of firearms. He spoke of the need for an empathetic compassion toward the violent, an understanding of the contexts and causes that helps us support them making different choices and helps to predict and prevent future occurrences. He certainly captured a sense of the “fed-up-ness” so many of us feel: “We’re done with this,” he said. “Done with young men killing one another over nothing. Done with the collateral damage. Done with the over-policing it creates.”
At the heart of his presentation, the Superintendent emphasized his twin priorities of building trust in the police department and increasing its effectiveness. These things are interdependent: when we do not trust the police, they struggle to do the job. When they do their jobs poorly or irresponsibly, we further lose trust. No one will help an investigation if the department fails to clear cases or to protect informants. Conversely, as the police department becomes more effective in serving the community, they will begin to gain trust. As they gain trust, they gain community help in becoming still more effective. “These are the two things behind everything I do,” he said: “Building the trust between Chicago and the Police Department that has been broken, and making the Police Department more effective at what it does.”
I struggle to know how to interpret situations like this. I try to take people at face value, at least until they give reason to believe I should not. I am generally impressed by people who say intelligent things in a straightforward manner, and Superintendent Beck did both. At the same time, I have seen enough of politicians and their appointees to know not to be too credulous. Beck has a record of some demonstrated success in reduction of gun violence and increasing the clearance of homicide cases in Los Angeles, where he served as Police Superintendent for nearly a decade. Of course, we will know the tree by its fruits.
Superintendent Beck said one thing, however, that we cannot deny the truth of, something we certainly must take to heart. He talked about something he called collective efficacy, a collective will and belief that we can only succeed together, that the solution to our problems is something we hold collectively. He said that the community needs to see itself as the solution to violence rather than its victim. In a moment of real eloquence, he said we need to become “A city that is not divided by where you’re more likely to get shot but a city that is united by a desire to make a difference.” A city — a region — with a sense of common purpose for the sake of the common good.
That vision of collective efficacy is what we refer to as the Peaceable Kin-dom, where weapons are re-forged into useful tools and nations study war no more. Our efficacy comes as we understand and engage the systems of evil. It includes confronting the government and the police when they fail to behave in trustworthy and effective ways. And it includes working with them when they succeed.
Of course, from our point of view, that vision of collective efficacy is what we refer to as the Peaceable Kin-dom, where weapons are re-forged into useful tools and nations study war no more. Our efficacy comes as we understand and engage the systems of evil. It includes confronting the government and the police when they fail to behave in trustworthy and effective ways. And it includes working with them when they succeed. We can all pray and work for their success, even as we pray and work for the protection of those threatened with violence, even as we pray and work for those who are tempted to violence themselves. For such as we, when we work and pray in this way, when we mourn, when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, when we make peace, thus become children of God.